Legally Blonde the Musical
A valid feminist message underlies this musical adaptation, but mostly it is about pink, puppies and pop songs
When I told my co-workers that I was going to review Legally Blonde the Musical, there was sympathy. When I explained I wanted to see it, and, indeed, had the soundtrack on my iPhone, there was mockery.
'I thought better of you,' my editor sighed.
Well, anti-snaps to the lot of them. Legally Blonde the Musical, which opened at the Grand Opera House on April 24, actually has a very admirable, underlying message about feminism, ambition and the transitory nature of heartbreak.
No, really, it does! Although admittedly that isn't why I'm here – that would be the catchy songs, the right guy getting the girl and the adorable puppies. Maybe that doesn't sound entirely like me, the hard-nosed critic who loves MR James and whose own writing usually elicits 'you seemed so nice', but there is just something about Legally Blonde the Musical that defies cynicism.
It is pink, it is fluffy and, by god, it is not ashamed of any of those things.
Based on the 2001 Reese Witherspoon film of the same name, Legally Blonde the Musical just takes that storyline and puts it to music. Perhaps it's from seeing the movie, but the narrative is surprisingly cohesive considering there are only about ten spoken, rather than sung, lines.
It opens with the pepto-bismol pink Malibu Barbie-like Elle Woods, played with just the right mix of learned vapidness and vulnerability by Faye Brookes, trying to find the right proposal dress ('It can't come right out and say bride'). Unfortunately, her fiance-to-be (Ray Quinn as Warner Huntington the Third) is wearing his break-up suit. He is going to Harvard, and he needs a Jackie, not a Marilyn.
Only Elle isn't going to give up that easily, following him to Harvard to win him back. With the help of a no-dud score of unbelievably catchy songs by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, dauntless optimism and a chip on her shoulder Elle sets out to prove she can be just as serious as someone who 'wears black when nobody's dead!'.
Brookes is an excellent Elle, swapping between surprisingly insightful and dim as a broken bulb, with a toss of her hair and a thrust of her chest (or bottom). Although the ghost of Reese Witherspoon does hang around the stage for the first 10 minutes or so, Brookes soon puts her own distinct stamp on the character.
The rest of the cast are also excellent, with Quinn and Micha Richardson as Pilar pulling some great, and completely in character, faces in background scenes. It would be wrong not to mention the doggie stars too – Pringle, Breezer and Sharpy – who make 'awws' echo from the ceiling every time they appear. However, it is Lewis Griffiths and Stephen Ashfield who deserve special mention.
Griffith's thighs steal the scene whenever they are on stage, strutting around in delivery man Kyle's dangerously short shorts. More sculpted than Arnold Schwarzenegger's chin during his Conan days, they deserve a slot on the billing on their own. They are frankly amazing, and receive nearly as much applause as the puppies from the (predominantly female) audience.
Ashfield, who plays a studious, witty assistant at Harvard, also does an amazing job with a role that could easily have been overshadowed by all the big, glitzy personalities (and thighs) on stage. His song 'Chip on My Shoulder' is one of the most memorable of the evening, with strong competition from 'Positive' and 'So Much Better'. He also manages the not at all easy task of dancing badly (adorkably so) despite actually being quite a good dancer.
The choreography throughout Legally Blonde the Musical is impressive. Jerry Mitchell, choreographer and director, has everyone and everything on stage moving with clockwork precision. There are a number of big set changes – from Malibu to Harvard, law offices to prison, court to a toilet – and they all click into place seamlessly. The only misstep all night is when one of the 'paparazzi' takes a brief tumble at the end.
The big set-piece reprise of 'Ireland' is particularly impressive, with the entire cast 'dancing without moving their arms'. It's another popular song, with the audience cracking up at the claim that 'all the men in Ireland are heroes/descended from poets and kings'.
As long as you aren't allergic to pink, fun or nice things, Legally Blonde the Musical is better than having a Greek Chorus of your very own. It is fluffy, frothy fun and if you feel it just has to have an underlying message there's enough meat there to come up with one.
Plus, the songs stick with you for days.
Legally Blonde the Musical runs at the Grand Opera House until May 5. For more information check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On listings.