The Theatreguide.London Review
I loved every second of Legally Blonde's energetic two hours and five minutes but appreciate that some might need converting to musical theatre and to a new musical in particular.
This production combines modernity with old-style glamour that begins on entering the Savoy and drinking in the pre-performance excitement for a show that is already attracting a regular fan-base along The Strand - but don't let that put you off experiencing it first hand.
The award-winning stage version (based on a book) of the 2001 film (based on a novel) opened on Broadway in 2007. Now it is here. I haven't seen the movie but those around me who had confirmed that this is no slavish replica (unlike some film to stage versions we could name), so it manages to seem familiar yet fresh at the same time.
Protagonist Elle Woods, a blonde material girl, aspires to marry dull-dreamboat Warner, who deems her unsuitable marriage material for one of his breeding and academic potential. Unceremoniously dumped, she follows him to Harvard Law School to regain his heart by her signature-pink-presence, and undergoes a personal journey that reveals an unconventional legal talent and the meaning of true love.
Sheridan Smith is the major draw here, displaying fine comic timing (no doubt gained from acclaimed theatre, film and TV work, most recently Gavin and Stacey) as she imbues Elle with vivacity and stoical niceness. We cheer for her, as does her posse of supporters including earnest student Emmett (an engaging Alex Gaumond), love-spurned hairdresser Paulette (a sparkling Jill Halfpenny, bringing humour and pathos to the role), and a group of raucous girlfriends (including Grease is the Word's Susan McFadden) who form a comical Greek Chorus that encourages Elle whenever her spirits begin to flag.
Peter Davison, the elder statesman of this generally young cast, is enjoyably boo-hiss as the university's Professor Callahan. Duncan James (of pop group Blue fame, and latterly Chicago) looks like a heartthrob, sings well, and does all he can to make Warner interesting. The talented Aoife Mulholland (recently Chicago's Roxie Hart) is underused as accused fitness instructor Brooke.
Clever and witty lyrics (adult at times, but inoffensively meant) from Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin form the fine structure from which the show radiates: two days later, I still find the rhyming couplet of 'sturdy book' and 'wordy book' most pleasing.
This is not a traditional musical like Les Mis and there are no truly memorable big or solo numbers within its vibrant score. But beneath the pink, kitsch designer handbags (and dogs) resides a good morality: that we should not judge by looks alone, and that hard work and education can lead to unexpected treasures.
I concede this could be more one for the girls, although I heard male laughter and some boys singing melodies as the curtain fell. Many will leave simply with memories of bling but it's nice to imagine a few budding Ally McBeals spurred to a law conversion by Elle's infectious example.
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Review - Legally Blonde - Savoy 2010