Legally Blonde – The Musical

Mar 17 2016 | By More

★★★☆☆      Energetic

King’s Theatre: Wed 16– Sat 19 March 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Lacking nothing in sheer relentless drive, the Bohemians’ production of Legally Blonde – The Musical at the King’s has little in the way of subtlety or contrast. As a result, it is great fun but fails to convince completely.

At a superficial glance, the 2001 movie seems an ideal candidate for turning into a musical, with its frothy, feelgood story about not judging by appearances, female solidarity and how it is possible to overcome the terrible problems inherent in being hugely rich and attractive.

Lydia Carrington in Legally Blonde. Photo: the Bohemians.

Lydia Carrington in Legally Blonde. Photo: the Bohemians.

The central character, Elle Woods, is a Californian fashion graduate who, on being dumped by her Harvard-bound boyfriend Warner Huntingdon III, for not being serious enough, follows him to law school in an attempt to win him back.

Anyone who is familiar with the film, however, will be surprised to hear that the musical (book by Heather Hach) makes even less sense. What is worse, everything that is interesting, sweet or subtle in the movie is diluted by being replaced by a series of musically undistinguished songs by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin. Their lyrics display little in the way of wit and fail to advance the plot, instead settling for vacuous ‘be the person you want to be’ preaching.

While there is still a fun story lurking somewhere inside this parade of primary colours (albeit one whose treatment of minorities is iffy at best), the end result is like being battered about the head with candyfloss-filled inflatable unicorns.

straightforwardly loud

This is not helped by the decision here to ramp everything up to maximum, including the volume. There can have been few, if any, shows at the King’s over the years that are as straightforwardly loud as this. While the sound balance is mostly handled well, the overall effect is unpleasantly raucous and soon becomes tiring.

Lyndsey McGhee as Paulette. Photo Bohemians

Lyndsey McGhee as Paulette. Photo Bohemians

This is doubly unfortunate, as the standard of singing throughout the cast is uniformly high. Best of all is Lyndsey McGhee as beautician Paulette, whose tremendous voice manages to overcome the frankly bizarre lyrics she has to sing.

Thomas McFarlane (Warner) and David Doherty (the essentially decent lawyer Emmett) also have strong, musical voices, while Lydia Carrington’s Elle belts out all of her numbers in fine style. Jo Heinemeier (Warner’s new ‘preppy’ girlfriend Vivienne) is a more restrained but more dramatic singer. Colin Cairncross is suitably cynical as law tutor Professor Callahan. Caroline Hood has to cope with one of the story’s more peculiarly drawn stereotypes as Enid but does so with gusto.

The problem is that many of the cast are not so convincing when they are not singing. There are some winning comic performances – notably by Ross Stewart, the delivery man who catches the eye of Paulette – but otherwise there is a lack of drama in between the musical numbers.

an abundance of energy

The structure is taken almost entirely from the film, leading to a parade of short scenes, with a great deal of shifting of (very accomplished) scenery, which becomes wearing and also dissipates any tension that has been built up.

Lydia Carrington in Legally Blonde. Photo: the Bohemians.

Lydia Carrington in Legally Blonde. Photo: the Bohemians.

Director Jon Cuthbertson and choreographer Dominic Lewis seek to remedy this by throwing everything at the songs wherever possible. There is certainly no shortage of big production numbers, with the huge cast of over 50 utilised to the full. Particularly impressive is the second-half opener led by Alison Wood as fitness guru and murder suspect Brooke, involving aerobics and skipping while singing.

Throughout, Elle’s three sorority friends are used as the leaders of a ‘Greek chorus’, and Felicity Thomas, Esmee Cook and Giselle Yonace perform these roles with real style and energy, with Cook particularly impressive.

Indeed, there is an abundance of energy throughout – which is part of the reason this is good rather than great. It is all too loud and too unrelenting. Towards the end, the previously well-drilled choreography starts to break down a little, notably in an unfathomable ‘Irish dance’ number.

There seems to be no chance for the cast to catch their breath, and in the end it is impossible for the audience to care very much about any of the characters, with the exception of the two excellent dog performers Vinnie and Kym.

While this is always a danger when working with animals, that the canines should seem so much more sympathetic shows that there is a degree of humanity missing somewhere. In the end, the real musicality on show is drowned out by volume, and a large amount of the fun is squeezed out. The end result is enjoyable, but strangely empty.

Running time 2 hours 40 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Wednesday 16 – Saturday 19 March 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinee, Sat 19: 2.30pm.
Details and tickets from:

The Bohemians website:
The Bohemians on Twitter: @Bohemians_Ed
The Bohemians on facebook: bohemiansedinburgh


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