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Legally Blonde: The Musical review

| Theatre | 16/07/2017


Over the past few days, City Academy has delivered an impressive amateur production of Legally Blonde: The Musical at Hammersmith’s Polish Theatre.  As Ian Cater writes below, Alan Pearson’s production features faultless choreography, admirable enthusiasm and a large cast that – by and large – rose towards the standard of its stronger performers.  And by not taking itself too seriously, the show satisfies a range of recipients, whether or not they love the film or its message.

Before Thursday, I’d never seen Legally Blonde or its musical spin-off.

This was largely through choice – rather than opportunity – as the tale of a Valley Girl, Elle Woods, who heads to Harvard Law School to win back her boyfriend and, in the process, disprove assumptions about her intellect ain’t normally my cuppa cha.  I don’t proffer this preface in an attempt to claim any cultural high ground, but to acknowledge how well this show and – in particular this cast – did in winning me over and recovering from a slightly sticky start.

The latter resulted from an opening scene of shrill sorority giddiness and slightly iffy enunciation as UCLA’s Delta Nu members delivered Omigod You Guys, offering little indication of what was to follow other than high energy and excellent choreography.

But humour quickly came more to the fore.  First, in the dumping scene, where Niklas Haukohl had his strongest moments as Warner.  Second, with Elle’s arrival at Harvard, by which time the lead, Rebecca Thomas, had really relaxed into her demanding role.  And third, whenever Elle’s trio of trusted friends from Delta Nu (played deftly by Clare McAndrew, Ori Szwarc and Laura Yates) showed up to offer support and encouragement.

However, the real turning point came with the entrances of Professor Callahan (Drew Sainsbury) and Paulette (Barbara di Maranda).  In Blood In The Water – emphasizing the ruthlessness needed to succeed in his class and the wider profession – Sainsbury set the production onto a more impressive path with his authoritative presence, tenor voice and Frank Underwood mannerisms.  This flowed into a series of strong numbers from di Maranda’s Paulette – owner of the Hair Affair salon – who acts as Elle’s maternal sage and empowers her to be herself.  Di Maranda was witty and note-perfect throughout.

IMG_1383The cast responded well to these prompts, raising their performances and voices, as Elle – encouraged by new friend Emmett (a very solid turn from Scott Topping) – starts taking her studies seriously and gets chosen by Callahan to help acquit Brooke Wyndham (played energetically by Sarah Palmer-Amaning), accused of murdering her husband.  The defence team’s task is to eliminate Wyndham’s motive by showing she wasn’t knocking boots with the pool boy – made possible when Elle spots the young man’s obvious disinterest in her fine figure.

This leads to the best moment of the show, There! Right There!, when the ensemble cast debates whether the pool boy is “gay or European”.  It’s a strong and funny number, perhaps only a handful of swearwords and genitalia references short of hitting Parker and Stone levels, and this cast thoroughly does it justice.  And the answer, importantly for the case and Elle’s legal career, turns out to be: both.

High on courtroom success, the now lecherous Callahan lunges at Elle, causing in her a crisis of confidence then predictable penny drop that she should no longer focus on winning back the guileless Warner, but on proving her abilities to herself.  Elle’s transformation is complete when she replaces Callahan as lead attorney and wins the case through her knowledge of hair care.  So a happy ending but mixed message for feminists everywhere, alleviated by Thomas’ composed and confident showing in the concluding scenes.

Overall, this was an enjoyable watch, performed to a high standard by an amateur cast.  Their enjoyment was infectious and, even though lines were occasionally lost, the choreography was faultless, for which Ughetta Pratesi and McAndrew warrant particular praise.  If you’re a fan of the film or original musical, you’ll love this.  If not, there’s still plenty to admire.

Legally Blonde: The Musical is being performed six times between 13th and 16th July 2016 at The Polish Theatre in Hammersmith, with productions divided between two casts – the Monday Company and the Tuesday Company.  The above review is based on the Tuesday Company’s opening night.  The final two performances take place today at 14:00 and 19:30, with tickets available here.    

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