NOTE: There has been cast changes since this review.
What do you do when your boyfriend dumps you? Drown your sorrows? Mope around and inflate on a diet of feel-better chocolate and such? That might be what mere mortals would do, but not Elle Woods, a girl whose fearsome knowledge of fashion and shopping is amply matched by her intellect. When Elle is dumped by her wealthy, 'preppy' boyfriend she decides to follow him to Harvard Law School and win him back. And when I say 'follow him' I mean she actually applies to the school to take a law degree.
At first, this might seem a rather ludicrous plot, and in a sense it is. But the set-up could have led to an interesting examination of how an intelligent and determined woman could equal any man in the academic arena. Though there is this element in the show, it's almost totally lost in the camp comedy which overwhelms the entire proceedings. Of course judgements have to be made about the balance between serious issues and humour in any production, but here the humour wins out in a way that belittles the issues it purports to examine. And the humour is mostly visual and not inspirationally so, and not even vaguely innovative. The end result is a fairly ordinary comedy musical.
It all starts at Delta Nu sorority house in Southern California where Elle and her cohort of admirers (who irritatingly re-appear at frequent intervals) are anticipating her engagement to one Warner Huntington III. But Warner has other plans for his future now that he's heading off to Harvard Law School, and getting married to Elle is not on his upper-class agenda. Surprisingly undeterred, Elle sets her mind to mugging-up for the entrance exam and eventually wins a place at the prestigious law school. Once there, she becomes a legal whiz and I suspect you're already ahead of me in what follows as it's all as predictable as the UK grinding to a halt at the first flurry of winter snow.
In the lead as Elle Woods, and singing almost all the songs from the show, is Sheridan Smith who presents a bubbly, chirpy Elle who has the resolve to recover – almost instantly - from being dumped or, one suspects, from almost any eventuality. Ms Smith's singing is powerful and generally impressive as is the stamina required to cope with so many numbers. Duncan James is a suitably handsome and rich boyfriend, Warner, who one suspects will have swathes of the audience drooling. But his vocal delivery sometimes needs more clarity and volume.
The set seems rather dated and functional, though functionality in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are no big surprises in the technical department, but then there's not much in the script which demands anything technically advanced. The choreography is impressively energetic and matched by the enthusiastic company singing, even if the songs are pretty-much instantly forgettable, though the phrase 'Ohmigod' becomes indelibly imprinted on one's memory as it's repeated ad infinitum.
Two cute dogs complete the casting line-up. I always worry when a show has to deploy something cute and cuddly in the animal department. However, the strategy worked, because the audience were 'oooing' and 'aaaaaahing' at the first glimpse of the pooches. Sadly, neither dog did anything particularly clever.
'Legally Blonde – The Musical' follows in the footsteps of the 2001 film of the same name and the novel by Amanda Brown. Apparently, the musical version has already done well in the USA, and I suspect it will here because there's a strong demand for comedy musicals. Hen parties in particular will no doubt roar their approval when the hunky mail man swaggers onto stage in his shorts – and why not? But I can't help feeling that they and other members of the audience may feel short-changed because the comedy, and indeed the entire show, is rather mediocre.
"I can only report that the predominantly female audience with whom I saw the show seemed to be having a whale of a time and did not give a damn about the fact that the musical is little more than a nonsensical fairytale. "
Micheal Billington for The Guardian
"Totally blown away...it's ridiculously enjoyable from start to finish."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Delightful, annoying, supremely wishful musical...Let’s overlook some forgettable tunes and welcome dance that embraces everything from skipping with ropes to spoof Riverdance...Legally Blonde is, well, fun"
Benedict Nightingale for The Times
"Among feelgood musicals, Legally Blonde is right up there."
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"It's energetic and amusing."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"The plot is pap, the musical unmemorable, the dancing often hefty except for one routine with skipping ropes."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"This musical will not disappoint fans of the movie - it’s a faithful, funny and feel-good adaptation."
Evelyn Curlet for The Stage