Clara Heffernan reviews Musical Theatre Bristol’s production of ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’.
When I first heard that Musical Theatre Bristol would be putting on a production of ‘Legally Blonde – The Musical’, I was apprehensive. It’s an ambitious production to say the least; a seven-time Tony Award nominee featuring big musical numbers and sharp one-liners that can easily fall flat. It’s also a production I love and I am not ashamed to admit that I would have taken personal offence had it not lived up to its full potential, but I’m glad to say it truly did. A series of show-stopping performances kept the audience in the packed-out Winston Theatre captivated for hours and left me humming along to ‘Omigod You Guys’ all the way home!
In case you don’t know, ‘Legally Blonde’ tells the story of Elle Woods – a Malibu sorority girl who makes her way to Harvard Law School in order to win back her ‘serious’ ex-boyfriend, Warner. She overcomes prejudice, dismissive peers and a creepy professor in order to win a trial for Brooke Wyndham, famous fitness guru and accused murderer. She ultimately realises she doesn’t need to change herself and become ‘more of a Jackie’ for Warner, because there was never anything wrong with being a Marilyn in the first place. The feminist message of the musical works alongside a commentary about class and privilege that is omitted in the movie version. The character of Emmett, a junior partner of Professor Callahan, is developed with the inclusion of ‘Chip on my Shoulder’, a ballad about succeeding without the privilege of wealth that Elle and other Harvard students enjoy. Just like Elle Woods, the story is often dismissed as silly or, as Tim Walker wrote in his Sunday Telegraph Review upon the show’s West End debut, an ‘empty vessel of a show’. In reality, the subjects being tackled have proven to be consistently relevant and ought not to be dismissed solely based on the fuschia scenery or upbeat musical numbers.
Firstly, praises must be sung for Catt Hurman’s stellar performance as Elle Woods. To deliver vocally on every number is already impressive, but combined with polished choreography and excellent comedic timing, it makes for a complete triumph. Her duet with Emmett (Harry Clements) stood out particularly as a strong vocal performance from both actors. Alice Smethhurst as Paulette was another star of the show, giving a more understated performance than others while still managing to leave the house in hysterics, bringing a poignancy to the show with numbers such as ‘Ireland’. Felix Dickenson as Callahan is perfectly gross, managing to capture all the suave sleaziness needed to make an audience squirm. To list every single display of talent would take hours, but it is safe to say that the standing ovation given at the close of the show was fitting for a cast as talented as this one.
The finer details of the show that may have gone unnoticed also deserve applause. The smaller roles, such as Sophy Taylor’s ‘Chutney’ or Will Bailey’s sexy UPS man ‘Kyle’, gave so much energy and life to the show despite not being the biggest roles. Amber King’s performance as a chorus member consistently drew my eye whenever she was on stage regardless of what was happening. In terms of production, the time and effort spent on everything from lighting to props was clear; I would say the huge paper-mache turkey that featured on stage for perhaps ten seconds but likely took much longer to create exemplifies the dedication from all members of the team.
Some directorial choices were not particularly to my liking; the section of ‘What you Want’ that features the ‘Jamaican me Crazy’ party fell a little flat, seeming a little out of place amongst the other numbers. However these scenes were brief and hardly distracted from the fun of the whole musical. Any minor mistakes or slip-ups only added to the charm of the show, and the audience laughed along too. Overall, the production showcased some of Bristol’s finest talent and will certainly leave you practicing the ‘bend and snap’ all night!