Music and Lyrics: Laurence O’Keefe &Nell Benjamin
Book: Heather Hach
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Laura Jayne Bateman
Based on the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon and Amanda Brown’s semi-autobiographical novel, the musical of Legally Blonde opened on Broadway in 2007. It transferred to the West End in 2009, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical and launching its leading lady, Sheridan Smith, to stardom. In Nikolai Foster’s revival at Leicester’s Curve, Lucie Jones takes on the central role, and her accomplished performance brings zest and charm to what is already a fizzy, light-hearted show.
The musical opens in California, where privileged, popular sorority girl, Elle Woods (Lucie Jones), is anticipating the marriage proposal of her wealthy boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Danny Mac). But instead of getting down on one knee, Warner breaks up with Elle for someone “serious”: he can’t go to Harvard Law School with a Malibu girlfriend in tow. Heartbroken, Elle determines to follow Warner, and with the help of her sorority girls, is accepted by Harvard Law too. But after discovering that Warner has a new girlfriend, the fiercely intelligent Vivienne Kensington (Phoebe Street), Elle begins to fail her classes and it is up to hard-working graduate Emmet Forrest (Jon Robyns) to save her from being thrown out. Elle also helps salon owner Paulette Buonofuonte (Tupele Dorgu) to find romance and self-esteemand finds time to crack a murder case.
This is a fun and faintly ridiculous musical, but it is to the show’s credit that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is perhaps a stretch to call it a feminist show, as Elle’s plot arc revolves around the men in her life and even her professional success is the result of her knowledge of hair-care rather than the law. But it is a joy to see so many female performers featured in leading roles, and the talented cast, although occasionally lacking diction, impresses throughout. Lucie Jones is a sweet, brightly naïve Elle, determined to see the good in everyone. She acts and dances well while her vocals are outstanding, handling the score with ease and bringing real pathos to the title song, Legally Blonde. Danny Mac is suitably suave as the slimy Warner, demonstrating a strong singing voice in the break-up song, Serious, while Phoebe Street has real stage presence as the ambitious Vivienne. Tupele Dorgu charms as the sparky Paulette, and Lawrence Robb displays good comedic skills as arrogant student Fergus McCall (“How many yachts can one man own?”) and later as Paulette’s love interest, the dashing Kyle B. O’Boyle.
But the evening’s stand-out performance comes from Jon Robyns as the conscientious Emmett. Having worked his way up from an underprivileged background, Emmett is determined not to let Elle take Harvard for granted, and the subtlety of Robyns’s performance gives real grit to his duet with Elle, Chip on My Shoulder. Robyns’s vocals are exceptional, and his finely-developed character arc is a pleasure to watch.
Director Nikolai Foster is on his usual excellent form, drawing the comedy out of Heather Hach’s book while ensuring we never lose sight of the show’s egalitarian message. Nick Winston’s sparkling choreography is well-executed by the ensemble, particularly Cristina Hoey, Francesca Hoffman and Genesis Lynea as Elle’s sorority friends. Musical director Bob Broad ably leads the excellent band, and Matthew Wright’s set is a sleek, ultra-modern and versatile pink box, ably conjuring the show’s many locations. Ben Cracknell’s effective and atmospheric lighting is well-supported by Louise Rhoades-Brown’s video design, highlighting Wright’s beautiful costumes.
Legally Blonde is a musical for the 21st-century, a big-hearted show with a modern message and a lively, catchy score. In Curve’s accomplished production, one can overlook the occasionally ludicrous plot twists due to the excellent work from the creative team and the talented performances from a versatile and vocally strong cast.
Runs until 14 May 2016 | Image: Catherine Ashmore