Legally Blonde – The Musical

Jul 19 2019 | By More

★★★★☆    Absolutely Fabulous

King’s Theatre: Thurs 18 – Sat 20 2019
Review by Thom Dibdin

Big and vibrant, the Beyond Broadway Experience’s summer school production of Legally Blonde the Musical, at the King’s to Saturday, is a glorious mix of huge ensemble numbers and strong solo performances.

With 155 performers in the cast, there was never any chance of this not making its mark. But what exceeds expectations is director Andrew Gowland’s inventive use – and his three choreographers’ exemplary drilling – of that 13 dozen.

Lori Davidson as Elle and the cast. Pic AJG Photography

Based on the 2001 movie staring Reese Witherspoon, and pretty faithful to it too, the musical follows supposedly typical valley girl Elle Woods, who is dumped by her boyfriend as not being serious enough when they graduate from UCLA and he goes off to Harvard Law School.

The twist, of course, is that she is not as ditzy as she is blonde and easily has the smarts to get into Harvard in her own right – where she discovers that she doesn’t need to be defined by her relationships either.

Lori Davidson, depped by Kirsty Morrison at alternate performances, is a natural Elle (despite a wig which is far from so). Vocally, she hits her notes well and theatrically she convinces as someone who might boast of the Kardashians as neighbours but who knows both the price and the value of things.

She has strong support in both the lead and minor roles. Ross Dillon is suitably overbearing as initial love interest Warner Huntington III. The scene where he dumps her is deliciously bittersweet. While Riodhna Walsh as his new date, fellow student Vivienne, is beautifully calculated in her cruelty and has a voice equal to the demands on it.

Blood in the Water

The key class at Harvard is run by notorious lecturer Professor Callahan. Taylor Williams is vicious and completely unlikeable in the role, leading Blood in the Water, the celebration of lawyers as sharks, with no little relish and ensuring that all his character twists are completely believable.

Lori Davidson and members of the company. Pic AJG Photography

Some succour for Elle in the class comes from working class teaching assistant and Harvard alum, Emmett, to whom Fraser McAdam (depped by Jamie Duffy) gives just the right level of staid nerdiness as he takes her under his wing. Katie Laird does what she can with the cliched and poorly written role of fellow classmate and lesbian eco-activist, Enid Hoopes.

There is rather more fun to be had away from class – whether physically or mentally.

Clare Wootton (depped by Monica Fowler) is all brash and gutsy but emotionally wounded as hairdresser Paulette, who becomes Elle’s best pal when she talks Elle out of getting her hair died. Her lusting after ripped UPS delivery man Kyle (a poised Robbie Sheppard) is as funny as it should be.

Bend and Snap

Key to that romance is the Bend and Snap, brought in to play by Elle’s four bestie’s from back at UCLA’s Delta Nu sorority, who turn up inside Elle’s – and then Paulette’s – heads as a Greek Chorus when events turn tragic.

Cora Irskine, Eilidh MacDonald, Imogen Hoppe and Freya Purdie with members of the cast. Pic AJG Photography

In fact they feature from the top of the show, setting up its narrative arc and showing up at nearly every key moment. Eilidh Macdonald, Cora Erskine, Freya Purdie and Imogen Hoppe all give excellent accounts of themselves. If there are moments where more focus on enunciation would help, there is a strong physicality to their performances.

The issue of these huge summer school casts is making sure that everyone gets a decent shot on stage. Gowland’s solution is obvious from the off as he maxes out on the crowd scenes, while paring the set back to its lighting effects, augmented by a few functional items that allow the company to create the setting themselves.

It’s an effective approach which really enhances the show, particularly in the effortlessly fluid scene changes. When Elle gives her personal essay to the Harvard lecturers, gowned figures on plinths holding cut out windows serve to suggest the academic venue, even as the stage is crowded with some 100 cheerleaders.

Lori Davidson with members of the cast. Pic AJG Photography

Those plinths come into regular play as stands for living mannequins whenever Elle goes shopping (and she does like to shop!) or in Paulette’s hair studio.

The big production numbers are tremendous fun, with the sort of dedication to precision which means that no one individual dancer stands out, unless it is intended. It is a real credit to the choreography team, led by Murray Grant, Louise Ferrier and guest choreographer Nikki Snelson and their performers.

Whipped into Shape

And with so many in the cast, you can really build up the effect as, at points, they come spilling out into the audience or – the court scenes – into the boxes on the side of the auditorium.

The most fun, however, comes from the fitness video of Brooke Whyndham who Callahan is defending on a murder rap, with the help of his four brightest students. Whipped Into Shape is a cleverly conceived and executed number, led by Eilidh Murray as Brooke.

Add a couple of nifty real dogs on stage, well designed lighting from MM Sound and Lighting, delivered with only the occasional hiccup, and a brightly energetic band under the direction of Simon Hanson, this is a properly fun evening’s entertainment of the kind which leaves even the grandads in the audience on sufferance humming those tunes on the way home.

Running time: Two hours and 35 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Thursday 18 – Saturday 20 July 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees Fri: 3pm & Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

A section of the Legally Blonde cast. Pic AJG Photography

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