It’s been the best part of eight years since I started writing this blog and imparting my words of wisdom (winky emoji) about all the shows we’re lucky to see. And the very first one that I had a crack at was the new (at the time) production of Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre with Sheridan Smith as Elle. We enjoyed it a lot.
All these years later and we’ve now seen it a second time last night at the Royal and Derngate as the current touring production makes its way to Northampton for a week. Ohmygodyouguys you could feel the excited vibe in the packed audience. We’ve still not seen the film, and if you haven’t either, then let me explain: basically this is the story of pink bimbo Elle, who looks squeakily divine, knows every fashion trick under the sun and lives life like an article in a woman’s magazine. Long term boyfriend Warner has ambitions to become a Big Name in The Law, and plans to go to Harvard Law School to realise his dream. However, Elle is the archetypal pretty vacant girlie, and she’s the wrong image for his ambitious plans; ergo, ditched. To win him back, Elle vows to get accepted at Harvard Law School too. Warner’s horrified to find she’s followed him there – especially as she discovers he’s now going out with serious student and certified bitch Vivienne. Will any of them take it lying down? And does Elle have what it takes to become a successful lawyer, or is her brain as windswept as an aircraft hangar? You’ll have to see it to find out!
Having loved the original production, I had high hopes for this new version; and I confess that I was a little disappointed in it. There’s no doubt that this is a good musical, but last night’s show was beset by quite a few problems that I hope get ironed out before any more performances take place. Up until the interval the sound quality was frankly poor. The performers and the orchestra were way over-amplified, resulting in vibrating booming from the pit and unintelligible lyrics from the singers and dancers. This is a real shame, because I remember that the lyrics and book are very witty; but at least half of it came over as garbled and very hard to follow. Some technical whizzkid obviously worked wonders during the interval and the second act was much more pleasing on the ear. Even so, there were still a few rather embarrassing moments, like seeing stagehands run in at the back to hold part of the set in place, having the restaurant scene and one of the hairdresser scenes take place on wobbly platforms, a stagehand smoothing out the edge of the big Irish flag that descended onto the stage, dancers colliding during one of the numbers and a swing boy getting tangled up in the skipping rope during a dance routine. I’m wondering if they were late getting installed because it didn’t feel like they’d done any kind of run through in the new theatre.
Whilst I’m in grumpy mood, we both thought the production looked a little cheap. I’m sure the idea behind the set designs was to create a kind of childish environment – rather than going for reality, they go for full-on cutesy, to reflect the personality of Elle and her UCLA cheerleaders. Accordingly, the library at the Harvard Law School and the court room both have a quirky, slightly fairy tale appearance, as though they’d just evicted the old woman who lived in a shoe. Fair enough I guess; but I didn’t at all like the backdrop they used to suggest the gardens – it was painted in a very lifeless and amateurish style. All it lacked was the pantomime horse.
Let’s concentrate on some good things. Once you can actually hear what’s being said and sung, it is a very well-written and funny show, with some great set routines and scenes; such as the party where Elle turns up as a bunny girl, and the whole courtroom, bend and snap, gay or European routine. The audience, who clearly didn’t see it coming, were gobsmacked at the private scene between Elle and Callahan, which has been brought into sharp relevance with the recent Harvey Weinstein allegations.
There are also some very good performances, in particular Lucie Jones as Elle. You might call me biased, gentle reader, but I really admire the fact that her participation in the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK is listed as the top achievement in her programme bio. So many other actors who have performed at Eurovision erase it from their history (Samantha Womack take note). Lucie has a tremendous voice, full of colour and emotion, and she sings the whole show sensationally. She also brings out all the humour to give an excellent comic performance too.
David Barrett is also excellent as Emmett, selflessly helping Elle to make the most of her opportunities, coming out of his shell in his sharp suit (which got an ooh from the audience) and showing that the ugly duckling can sometimes go to the ball (if that’s not mixing my metaphorical fairy tales). I was also very impressed with Laura Harrison as Vivienne, deliciously revelling in Elle’s misery until she sees the error of her ways, and Helen Petrovna as both fitness queen Brooke and Vivienne’s catty friend Whitney. There were also a few performances that I didn’t really rate, partly explained by some surprisingly dull choreography, but I’ll leave it there.
I really wanted to enjoy this show so much, but for me there was too much that wasn’t quite right that stopped it from soaring. Still, I expect it will be way better in a couple of days’ time. Its lengthy tour continues all over the country, right round to next June, so there are plenty of opportunities to catch it.
Production photos by Robert Workman