'Legally Blonde' review — what you want is to see this joyous musical
“Is this the face of Harvard Law?” the admission team asks in Legally Blonde. They’ve received a last-minute application from Elle Woods, a blonde Barbie-eseque UCLA grad who doesn’t scream “typical lawyer.” In the space of a few months, she charms her way through the Ivy League school, proving that being yourself never goes out of style.
We first fell for the Legally Blonde story two decades ago, when Reese Witherspoon played the spunky, feminist law student in the original film. Sheridan Smith then delighted audiences in the West End musical premiere a decade later (a production I personally credit to changing the way I view musical theatre for life.)
We’re in a different sociocultural landscape than when Legally Blonde took over the stage and screen in the '00s. The rise of social media, the legalisation of same-sex marriages, and the #MeToo movement now influence the way in which we see Elle Woods’s story in 2022.
Thankfully, Lucy Moss’s direction excellently captures today’s multi-generational issues. A few line changes here and there — of course Elle Woods would know Timothée Chalamet — bring a current focus to Legally Blonde which makes it the must-see feel-good musical.
Praise must go to Natalie Gallacher as casting director, as the Legally Blonde cast reflect a diverse society, and it’s something which the wider theatre community should take note of.
Isaac Hesketh makes history as the first non-binary actor to play Elle's sorority sister Margot. However, showcasing such a diverse cast exposes how the material was originally written with one gender in mind.
Courtney Bowman delivers a polished performance as Elle Woods, confidently strutting around the stage while simultaneously melting our hearts. Nadine Higgin — who understudied the role of Paulette in the West End a decade ago — is a perfect pairing for Bowman’s Elle as the kooky hairdresser with maternal aplomb.
Alistair Toovey and Michael Ahomka-Lindsay contrast excellently as the lawyers and love interests, Warner Huntington III and Emmett Forest, respectively. Ahomka-Lindsay cleverly internalises Emmett’s personal struggles, so that by “Take It Like a Man” — a musical number where Emmett finds a new sense of style — we believe he’s found a new sense of self.
Lauren Drew stands out as Brooke Wyndham, displaying a Herculean feat of skipping, singing, and riffing without breaking a sweat. Kudos to Ellen Kane for choreographing such a smart “Whipped Into Shape” routine.
It’s a shame then that creatively, this Legally Blonde misses the mark. While Laura Hopkins’ set design incorporates Elle Woods-bubblegum pink throughout, the mismatched curtain design to reflect braided hair looks strawlike. While Jean Chan’s in-vogue costume colour palettes complement one another, but the overuse of thin, stretchy material screams Primark instead of Prada.
The show tows a thin line between trendy and kitsch . The Greek chorus’ Britney mics stick out like sore thumbs, and singing “Keep it Positive” closer to “Keep ih Posaaa-taaave” felt dated. And the jury’s out on casting actors to play the dogs, Bruiser and Rufus.
On the surface, this is a Legally Blonde for the Instagram-lovers and TikTokers. Elle Woods is a modern-day icon, and any Legally Blonde musical must play up to the blonde “bimbo” stereotype in part. But this Legally Blonde is an assured and snappy production which fits slap-bang into the present day. The sheer joy resonating around the auditorium as we see Elle graduate should be illegal.
Bend and snap your way to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre this summer. What, like it’s hard?
Photo credit: Legally Blonde (Photo by Pamela Raith)
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