Wednesday, 11 October 2017

REVIEW: Legally Blonde at New Victoria Theatre, Woking

If you’ve not seen the classic chick-flick film Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, where have you been since 2001? Elle Woods, the chihuahua loving sorority sweetheart takes it upon herself to follow the love of her life, Warner, to Harvard Law School to prove to him that being blonde does not mean she’s not “serious” or “a Marilyn, not a Jackie”. It’s light-hearted yet deeply inspiring for girls everywhere who have ever wanted to prove someone wrong. 

After a successful run on Broadway, then at London’s Savoy Theatre starring Sheridan Smith and a stint at Leicester Curve last year, this UK tour was eagerly anticipated: starring Lucie Jones as Elle Woods, Rita Simmons as Paulette and Bill Ward as Professor Callahan. This is the fourth version of the stage show I’ve seen in the last 18 months, so my expectations were high. 

At Woking’s press night performance, due to illness, Lucie Jones was absent but we were treated to a debut performance as Elle from understudy Rebecca Stenhouse. I love seeing understudies have their opportunity to shine and when it comes to debuts, the atmosphere surrounding them is unique and adds an indescribable excitement to the evening which can be felt from the stage. Rebecca Stenhouse was remarkable - truly effortless as Elle. In a role which commands more stage-time than Mama Rose in Gypsy, she was energetic, warm and lovable from the offset and lit up the stage throughout. Brava, Diva!

Rita Simons was brilliantly funny as beautician/agony-aunt Paulette. Her comedic timing was great but her vocals sounded tired. It’s a shame her bend and snap didn’t have a little more snap - she has the potential in this role to be superb. 

Her co-star Bill Ward left much to be desired as Callahan - slurring his words (and getting some of them wrong I might add). The character is intimidating, sleazy and powerful. Sadly, Ward missed all these marks and left me significantly underwhelmed. 

As Elle’s law-school guide and confidant Emmett Forrest is David Barrett who struck me as an unconventional casting given his beef-cake frame and stature (ironic for a character which sings “can’t spend hours doing my hair and staying in shape” when you can see his biceps bulging through his suit!), but he tapped into Emmett’s nerdiness wonderfully presenting himself with a great physicality and he also sang very well. His chemistry with Stenhouse was great and will only strengthen over time. 

The choreography in this production should be a real highlight - the routines are designed to be intensely energetic and while most fell short, I must commend Helen Petrovna on her fab-u-lous Brooke Wyndham performance. For those unfamiliar with the show, the Act 2 opener ‘Whipped Into Shape’ features prisoners dancing with skipping ropes (which can also be used as a self-defence weapon)… The number was kept quite small for the first half but when the team of dancers expanded and took over the stage, I was left breathless. Absolutely stunning and perfectly executed - a highlight of the evening. 

A make-or-break moment in Act 2 is Vivian Kensington’s glam-rock belt of a top A-flat at the end of the reprise of the title song, Legally Blonde. Thank the theatre gods for Laura Harrison - she absolutely nailed it. 

Many of the costumes have come under fire for being dated and frumpy but I
completely disagree - they suited the production perfectly. Similarly, the set pieces were excellent and transformed the stage beautifully. There was something a little lacklustre about the whole show, however. I was underwhelmed significantly by the overall emotion of the show. There were moments of glorious comedy which were lost, intimate moments which were overlooked, lines forgotten, a hyperactive smoke machine, an untrained lap dog and an unnecessarily lengthy encore to top it all off. 

This production of Legally Blonde has some superb components but I’ve seen stronger productions from am-dram groups. At the heart of this show, is a stunning musical but this tour lacks the magic I’ve previously seen. 

Review by Harriet Langdown 

Rating: ★★★
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