Based on Amanda Brown’s novel of the same name, Legally Blonde was turned into a popular film in 2001 with Reese Witherspoon playing the surprise heroine Elle Woods. A musical theatre version was further developed and after try outs in San Francisco the show finally aired on Broadway in April 2007. It is very a popular choice for both professional and amateur presentations and this, near sell out, two nighter, main stage, performance at Nottingham Playhouse by Spotlight Theatre Company is testament to that. There is a real buzz both outside the theatre and inside as this evening’s sun blessed and eager audience are clearly excited in their anticipation to see this particular production. One assumes this mass of well wishers are fans of Spotlight’s work, supporters and parents and friends of the cast. Maybe the awaiting crowd is be-spotted with a few ex-students too.
Brown’s novel is partly autobiographical and based on her experiences at Stanford University where she met prejudice and was ostracised by her class mates because of her blonde good looks and So Cal personality. These were deemed to be at odds with the serious blue blood university norm.
Legally Blonde is an empowering story and essentially the tale of never judging a book by its cover and the power of education to transform hearts and minds. Behind the musical’s dazzling pink exterior is a powerful hymn for equality and plea for acceptance, regardless of appearance, experiences or background.
Like many of these expertly structured musicals, the energy and pizazz of the staged world, so cleverly crafted by the writers, belies the politic and gravitas of the message hidden just below the surface. It is only in the final scene that we get the serious aspects of Elle’s journey where we go from laughing at the light hearted humourous situations and enter the world of feminism and equality.
The Legally Blonde music and lyrics are by Lawrence O ‘Keefe and Neil Benjamin and the book by Heather Hach. The New York Times called the original show a ‘non stop sugar rush of a show’ and we follow Elle’s journey maturing from a bright pink princess in love to proper legal eagle. Legally Blonde won three Olivier Awards in 2011 for Best New Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Supporting Role for Jill Halfpenny.
The talented cast in Spotlight’s production of Legally Blonde is enormous but we never feel the stage is over crowded throughout the whole show and at times there is clever use of the side galleries in the auditorium. All the ensemble numbers are smartly choreographed (Jessica Royce) and realised by the well drilled and enthusiastic cast. As ever director Amanda Hall’s direction is professionally achieved and the lighting (Tom Mowat) and sound (Rob Ketteridge) qualities bond the production equally professionally. The whole effect is a total joy to watch and the audience hopefully appreciate the hard work that has taken months to achieve yet gives an appearance of effortless accomplishment.
… total joy to watch… appearance of effortless accomplishment…
Whilst the two real dogs that take the roles of Rufus (Hugo) and Bruiser (Lady) gets some of the biggest ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ on appearance, the humans in the lead roles (no pun intended) are certainly to be applauded and are, rather generously throughout.
Ella Greenwood is superbly delightful in the main role Elle Woods. Her singing is gutsy and full of the vivacity and vulnerability of her character and Greenwood’s comedy and straight acting are a perfect Legally Blonde dream in action. She makes her role extremely believable, even in this musical theatre style that often borderlines sugary sweet. The role of her original paramour Warner Huntington lll is taken by Jacob Fowler who it transpires has a very attractive singing voice and Fowler underplays the snobbishness of his character well. Some productions have him as totally objectionable – not this one.
Semi professional Robert Goll (last seen and heard in Chess) gives us a master class in creating his character – Professor Callahan. Goll gives us a very realistic, commanding performance without any bombast, making his professor sympathetic until the later reveal of his insidious and sexually opportunistic personality.
One of the most enjoyable low key performances of the evening is from the subtly enigmatic Patrick McCrystal as educationally and vocationally driven Emmett Forrest. Here is a student that has had to work several jobs alongside his law studies in order to succeed and graduate. We really get the truth of this fully emanating from McCrystal’s well rounded character and the actor’s singing is exemplary.
Newcomer to Spotlight, Laura Thurman is vocally sharp and very funny/sympathetic as Irish music obsessed hair stylist Paulette Bonafonte. Her ‘Bend And Snap’ routine and her relationship with the tight shorts wearing Kyle the UPS Guy played with wry amusement by Alex Huntley is a delight.
Charlotte Howarth’s character Vivienne Kensington is a hard one to pull off. Do you play her as über bitch or something more moderate with a deep ambition to succeed in the tough world of USA lawyers? Howarth opts for the more three dimensional approach and her character and the story benefits from this more organic and culpable approach.
Matt Wesson (Carlos) and Tano Gangemi (Nikos) bring just a tiny amount of campness to the ‘Gay or European?’ section of the show and the audience adore their performances.
Legally Blonde has some cracking songs throughout and although very few are going to be having you hum them on the way home and for weeks afterwards, beauties such as: ‘Omigod You Guys’, ‘Blood On The Water’, ‘Ireland’, ‘Chip On My Shoulder’, ‘Whipped Into Shape’, ‘Bend And Snap’, ‘Legally Blonde’ and ‘Find My Way’ certainly tell the tale well with equal sprinklings of emotional guts and feel goodness.
From the artistic success of last year’s terrific ‘A Chorus Line‘ Spotlight’s 2018 show Legally Blonde only goes to show what extraordinary talents we have in Nottingham on all levels.
Legally Blonde runs until 15th July 2018
Reviewer: Phil Lowe.
Photos credit: Gavin Mawditt.
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