18 January 2012
It’s a confident production company that can stage the touring version of a major West End show so geographically close to London. But with a talented young cast and a sprinkling of famous name cameos, Legally Blonde rolled into Southend to start its 2012 tour.
The lead roles remain largely as cast when the tour commenced last July and the company displays a well-drilled ease in performing the show, demonstrating not only a clear understanding of the sugar sweet plot line, but also the occasional darker nuances of the story.
As Elle Wood, the graduating UCLA student, Faye Brooks leads with an energy that combines elegance , poise and ditz. Her role is immense, 14 out of the show’s 20 numbers include her, and she is outstanding throughout. The show opens with her character being defined in her college sorority house, Omigod You Guys, swiftly followed by her being dumped by her boyfriend Warner in the song Serious. This provides the storyline of the show, as Elle commits herself to studying, so as to follow Warner to Harvard Law School. Perhaps the one weak-link in the long established show’s story, which at times in true Hollywood stye is deliciously implausible, is how Elle, a girl who is extremely strong in character, could even seek to pursue a man as blatantly shallow as Warner.
Arriving at Harvard, Elle becomes a pupil of Professor Callahan, a fiercely adversarial attorney, played here by Matthew Kelly. Callahan’s big number, is Blood in the Water, reflecting the popular image of the lawyer as shark. Kelly relishes every word, and is at his best when reprising the American curmudgeon, recently seen in Lend Me a Tenor.
Elle’s striking blonde locks lead inevitably to a friendship with her hairdresser Paulette, a feisty woman past her prime. Claire Sweeney in this role is a delight. Her wistful yet earthy delivery of Ireland, in which she rues her tattered love life to date is arguably the high spot of the show’s first half.
The true love interest of the story is developed as Emmet, a fellow Harvard student develops a fondness for Elle. He teaches her to look outside of her self in the song Chip on My Shoulder, and her initiative and talent is recognised in So Much Better, a clever number that stirringly closes act one.
Opening the second act, Hannah Grover as Brooke leads an energetic and wonderfully choreographed number, Whipped into Shape, and provides a key plotline that allows Elle’s character to develop further. Without spoiling the story, it is cutely feminine touches that see the plot turn firstly on one woman’s concern over liposuction and later upon Elle’s own self-described “gaydar”, her ability to detect a man’s sexuality, hilariously delivered in the song There! Right There!
Before concluding with an appropriately happy finale the story honestly portrays Elles brave defiance of Callahan’s attempted sexual harassment and in her journey through the second act, Faye Brooks ( a future Glinda perhaps?) truly makes the show her own.
The touring company is a scaled down version of the West End production in terms of orchestra size and scenery. There has however been no compromise at all with the production’s performance values. The vocal work and dance of the entire company is simply outstanding throughout, and the creative team of this UK Tour, ably led by resident director Graham Lappin have excelled.
This production brings West End quality at a fraction of the cost of a London ticket. Go see it!