LEGALLY BLONDE: THE MUSICAL AT THE NEW ALEXANDRA THEATRE, BIRMINGHAM
Theatre Run: Tuesday 28 August - Saturday 1 September
Performanced Viewed: Tuesday 28 August
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
Legally Blonde: The Musical is one of those musical theatre productions from which you can glean a great deal before the curtain even rises and the upbeat frenzy of sparkle and feel-good whirs into action. It’s decidedly female-oriented (though with plenty of sex appeal and wit to cater to any husbands and partners who may be reluctant to tag along) and the first Act in particular is an explosion of humour and irony mostly focused around its central protagonists sorority-centred outlook on life; fashion, sisterhood, romance (of the most surface kind) and her handbag-carried pooch Bruiser. Whilst this may sound far too atypical (or Kardashian) to be bearable to some, it is a testimony to the strength of the characters involved and the clever handling of plot that, like the journey of it’s central protagonist Elle Woods, the initial surge of colour, camp and bling gives way to both characters and plot that, whilst confidently and re-assuringly over-the-top, are nonetheless refreshingly smart, brilliantly witty and hilariously post-modern.
It helps greatly that the show boasts such a positive and engaging protagonist around which everything revolves. Elle’s pep is both genuine and endearing, and actress Faye Brooks does a beautiful job of bringing tenderness and innocence to the role that never slips into naivety or irritation. Whilst she may lack some of the vocal power of her West End predecessors (notable on some of the headlining numbers such as Act 1 curtain closer ‘So Much Better’) she makes a wonderful Elle and carries the show with warmth, humour and conviction in equal measure.
Iwan Lewis is suitably goofy yet charismatic as Emmett, the only person to initially look out for Elle when she arrives at Harvard, and the journey the two go on is given a sincerity and authenticity thanks to the tenderness of both leads’ performances. Gareth Gates, as Elle’s questionable and self-serving ex Warner Huntington the Third, surprises with a generally convincing American accent and suitably smooth vocals, though his character is given relatively little to do after being the initial catalyst for Elle’s journey, and the few musical opportunities he gets are disappointingly low-key. The same can be said of the closest the show has to a central antagonist - Elle’s Harvard tutor Professor Callahan. Theatre veteran Andy Mace (who also played the role in the West End) certainly has the vocal chops and stage presence, though given the heightened nature of everything else in the show, the character would likely have benefited from a more venomous and impactful solo than the fairly meek ‘blood in the water’, though this is hardly the fault of Mace himself, who, like Gates, certainly does the best with the material the shows book allows him.
Unsurprisingly, the supporting females fare far better. Elle’s confidante Paulette, a bizarrely-outfitted lonely-heart hair-dresser with a hilariously left-field obsession with Ireland, is written as such to nearly always threaten to steal the show, but only in the hands of a capable performer. Fortunately then, Brookside alumni Jennifer Ellison very quickly dashes any initial doubts that she may be too young to play the role and acquits herself as Paulette remarkably well, giving a brilliantly confident and comedic turn that, like Elle herself, it is difficult to not find yourself rooting for, particularly in Act 2 when a hilarious, innuendo-laden subplot involving UPS delivery stud Kyle is introduced.
It isn’t difficult to see that this is a company that are having a terrific time enjoying themselves with such great musical theatre material, and the joy and enthusiasm is truly infectious. The show isn’t without it’s flaws - the first Act bounces around a little too erratically at times and some of the musical numbers feel a trifle redundant or samey in comparison to the more purposeful and structured second Act where a court case gives the narrative a more centralised through-line. The more minimalised set design of this touring production leaves out some great visuals from the original run, including the introductions of the Delta Nu house and Elle’s initial reveal making their counterparts here a little underwhelming in comparison, though of course this will only be an issue for those who saw the original show.
In all though, Legally Blonde: The Musical is an unapologetically feel-good explosion of colour, comedy and camp that keeps its tongue firmly in it’s cheek and isn’t afraid to wear it’s heart on its sleeve throughout. Boasting strong central performances, a lively, jovial soundtrack and terrific, oft-dazzling choreography (including a notable highlight being Hannah Grover’s remarkably physical ‘whipped into shape’) it is a celebration of defying expectations and achieving your goals whilst remaining true to ones self; a tried-and-tested story maybe, but one told here with a unique, diamante-encrusted sheen and brilliantly post-modern flavour.
It’s also, like, totally the best girls night out in town.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 Stars)
LEGALLY BLONDE: THE MUSICAL is running at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Monday 28 August to Saturday 1 September 2012.
CLICK HERE for more information on the shows run at the New Alexandra and to book your tickets!
Alternatively phone the Telephone Booking line on 0844 871 3011.
Press tickets for this performance of Legally Blonde: The Musical were provided courtesy of The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.