Legally Blonde – The Musical

January 26, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Sugar rush

Church Hill Theatre: Tues 25 – Sat 29 Jan 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Radiating the sheer enjoyment of being back in a theatre, Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group’s production of Legally Blonde-The Musical is huge in scale, excellently put together, and full of sugary goodness.

The story of Californian sorority queen Elle, who follows her boyfriend to Harvard law school after he dumps her for being insufficiently serious, is probably still best known for the Reese Witherspoon-starring 2001 movie.

Olivia Hall as Elle Woods with Conor Quinn as Emmett Forrest. Pic: Andrew Perry

The original film is smarter than it first appears but is still a fairly flimsy affair, and the 2007 musical (book by Heather Hach, music and lyrics by Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe) is possibly even sillier. It can only make sense when done with extreme levels of primary-coloured, candy-coated commitment – which is undoubtedly the case here.

The entire production is suffused with a happiness at returning to live performance (and a desire to put on as big a spectacle as possible) that is readily communicated to the audience. The heart can sink a little at seeing four producers, three directors and three musical directors listed, suggesting a show weighed down by committee. However, the result here is a true collaboration – well thought out, well drilled, and enviably well performed.

strong, convincing and with real presence

Olivia Hall dominates the stage as Elle – musically strong, convincing and with real presence. This presence means that she may not convince entirely as the supposedly flaky early Elle, instead exuding determination and seriousness right from the start, but this is easily forgiven.

Lizzie Baldwin as Paulette Bonafonte. Pic: Andrew Perry

The role of Paulette, the beautician who befriends Elle, may be a smaller one but is often the most memorable, and Lizzie Baldwin combines a gift for comedy with an exceptionally strong voice. Paulette’s featured number is Ireland, which may be the strangest in a show not exactly short on inexplicable songs, and Baldwin is surely one of the very few people ever to make it convincing – which is testament to how commanding she is.

The male leads do not quite have the same level of charisma, but Ben Evans (Elle’s ex Warner) and Conor Quinn (good-hearted lawyer Emmett) are both tuneful and thoughtfully portrayed.

thoughtful direction

That they are not so prominent is surely not down to any shortcomings of the performers, but is more due to thoughtful direction. Throughout the production, there is more light and shade than might be expected, with director Hannah McGregor displaying admirable judgement in when to go full-throttle on the silliness and when to rein it back and give the show time to breathe.

Lizzie Baldwin as Paulette Bonafonte and Tess Bailie as Pilar. Pic: Andrew Perry

This means that some of the more stereotypical characters – Chelsea Laurik’s stuck-up Vivienne, Freya Wilson’s cartoon feminist Enid – are more convincing than they have any right to be.

TJ Gardner’s oily Professor Callahan is a shade one-dimensional, but portrayed with considerable relish. Fiona Forster, Molly Keating and Tess Baillie play the cheerleading Greek chorus with an irresistible glee that encapsulates everything that is good here. James Sharp, meanwhile, has a winning comic cameo as delivery driver Kyle.

It is possible to see this musical several times and still have little memory of most of the tunes, such is their forgettable nature. This production largely overcomes this drawback with pin-sharp choreography (by Alice Whiteman and Rose Roberts), an extraordinary level of ensemble togetherness and the maximum possible effort from all concerned. There is one routine featuring the suitably steely Becky Maxwell as murder suspect Brooke Wyndham that is so taxing that it makes the audience exhausted just watching it.

waves of goodwill

This energetic approach is accompanied by a great deal of careful consideration of how to present the material. The potentially problematic depiction of a gay character is here redeemed by the staging of a full-on – literally flag-waving – parade. This does have the effect of showing up some of the other peculiar characterisations in a show whose message of empowerment and female solidarity is undermined somewhat by the marginalisation of anyone who is not rich, good-looking and traditionally ‘American’.

Becky Maxwell as Brooke Wyndham with Katie Sansbury, Abby Halperin, Alix Burness, and Ruby Loftus. Pic: Andrew Perry

This is not the only disadvantage to a musical whose lyrics are often less than convincing and which drags noticeably in the second act. The full-on nature of this production does overcome all of this with an approach that is so compelling that it sweeps everyone along on waves of goodwill. There is also a real pace to the staging, with transitions between the many short scenes handled smoothly.

a huge success

Not everything is perfectly executed. Some of the smaller roles have had less attention paid to them, the smoke machine is definitely overused, and there are definite problems with the sound balance – when the full band is playing, it is occasionally difficult to make out the singing. MD Falk Meier and the musicians do, however, sweep events along with a brash tunefulness.

The evident joy at simply being able to perform is carried over into so many aspects of the production – notably the clever, and noticeably successful, reminder about mask-wearing – that this production can only be counted as a huge success.

Running time 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval

Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Thursday 25 – Saturday 29 January 2022.
Evenings at 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: https://fienta.com/s/eusoglegallyblonde

Olivia Hall as Elle Woods and Conor Quinn as Emmett Forrest. Pic: Andrew Perry

ENDS

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