REVIEW: LEGALLY BLONDE (Churchill Theatre) ★★
UK audiences have been lucky to have had several brilliant productions of the musical adaptation of Legally Blonde with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Since it premiered on Broadway in 2007 we’ve had a wildly successful West End production along with a live cast recording, a UK tour and a Leicester Curve version, but now a new UK tour is heading on the road and sadly, the show has lost its sparkle in this dated and clumsy staging.
The show, based on the novel Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown and the 2001 movie of the same name follows Elle Woods as she embarks on a journey from a Malibu sorority girl to Harvard Law School to try and win back her ex-boyfriend Warner Huntington III, who dumped her before leaving to study. The show follows Elle as she discovers how powerful a knowledge of the law can be and her own transformation into a fully fledged Lawyer.
This new production led by Lucie Jones, who just finished a brief stint in The Wedding Singer UK Tour and received rave reviews as Maureen in the recent revival of RENT, is given a dose of energy from her faultless vocals. But those vocals and her cooky and likeable Elle isn’t enough to carry the show.
The production seemingly has had to deal with what feels like a tight budget, meaning due to set pieces and scenery, the show spends a lot of time transitioning from scene to scene. The staging never quite decides on an approach to this, with some pieces being dragged on by members of the cast, and others being wheeled on on pieces of set. But the scenes themselves never quite set alight either. One aspect of the brilliance of Legally Blonde is its slick and punchy book by Heather Hach, but the scenes directed by Anthony Williams in this production seem slow paced and lacking energy. The musical numbers don’t fare much better either, co-choreographed by Williams and Dean Street, the choreography seems unoriginal, repetitive and often out of place, most noticeably in an oddly physical ‘There! Right! There!’, although it must be noted that the Act II opener ‘Whipped into Shape’ stands out amongst the crowd. Led by the ferocious Helen Petrovna who gives a hilarious and confident star turn as fitness guru turned murder suspect Brooke Wyndham, the song includes some fast paced and impressive rope-work, which Petrovna flawlessly executes but unfortunately proves too challenging for other members of the ensemble.
EastEnders actress Rita Simons gives an enjoyable performance as salon owner Paulette, although perhaps not quite worthy of the poster billing she seems to be receiving. Bill Ward of Emmerdale and Coronation Street fame struggles through his musical numbers as Professor Callahan and never quite feels physically impactful or powerful enough. Ward even broke character in Act II to have a giggle with the audience when a prop didn’t behave as planned, moments before embarking on his most intense scene in the show.
Although Lucie Jones gives a valiant performance and the female company add some energy as the Delta-Nu sorority girls, the production is let down by some odd staging and direction, and even a patched together dance mega-mix at the end of the night isn’t enough to shake off the sluggish evening it concludes.
Reviewed by Oliver Williams
Photo: Robert Workman