It was pink, fluffy and camp. It was Legally Blonde – performed by Trinity Laban Musical Theatre in a showcase at Stratford Circus Arts Centre in London.
Legally Blonde The Musical originally premiered on Broadway in 2007 and it went on to become a critical success in the West End and touring, picking up an Olivier Award in 2009.
But, ten years since its London debut, was a story about a sorority president turned law student a little too sugar-dusted for the post #MeToo era?
There were moments when it was close.
Take It Like A Man jarred somewhat, not so much in delivery but in lyrical sentiment but, overall, the answer was no.
Underneath the bouffant blonde hair and cerise dresses Elle Woods is a fiercely empowered woman who transforms not only her life but the lives of everyone around her.
And even the most cynical critics couldn’t keep their toes from tapping, or smiling with delight, after two hours of pure fun.
The peppy score – an eclectic musical mashup of references and styles underpinned by pop – was played well by the pit band, although the vocal mics were a tad on the loud side.
The show opened to reveal a sorority house resplendent in marble, chandeliers and palms, washed with blush light.
And the perky opening number, Oh My God You Guys, was a riot of colour and energy, showcasing Stewart J Charlesworth’s economical and flexible set-design and tongue-in-cheek costumes.
In fact, the whole production had an element of a knowing-wink about it.
The audience chuckled at the little nod to the iconic Les Mis flag-wave that heralds the finale of What You Want.
And they enjoyed murder suspect and fitness guru, Brooke’s (Francesca Mae Smith), homage to Olivia Newton John’s Physical that was the Act 2 opener, Whipped Into Shape, complete with Lycra-clad dancers.
I was hugely impressed that these students could sing and dance plus do a whole fitness routine, that included choreographer, Nicky Griffiths’, high-octane jump-rope work, while belting out a tune.
After introducing Elle (Poppy Louise Cooper-) and her glitter-infused life of luxury, a slick scene-change flowed into the leading lady’s duet with boyfriend Warner (Calum Rickman).
He breaks up with her as she’s simultaneously shrieking her acceptance of an imaginary proposal (getting a great reaction from a sympathetic crowd) and setting up the motivation for Elle’s U-turn from UCLA Fashion major to Harvard Law School student.
Rickman is perhaps not the most vocally secure when delivering the Enrique Iglesias style lines of the ballad, but he was convincing overall as the posing posh-boy who considered Elle to be a vacuous Marilyn, when he wanted a Jackie.
And so Elle transformed into someone serious, ‘somebody who wears black even when no one’s dead’ (the score is full of such pithy lines that are delivered with perfect timing and clarity by the cast).
With the help of studious Kate (Amy Blanchard) Elle nabbed a place at Harvard, turning up to the first day of class clad in bubble-gum tones and with her eyes firmly on her prize: Warner.
Cooper’s comic-timing was good, and she captured Elle’s beguiling mix of sweetness and shrewd intelligence right from the start, using her vocal colour and variety to communicate Elle’s emotional journey.
It seemed that more could have been made of Elle’s embarrassment when she turned up to her first college party in the infamous bunny outfit, only to find it’s not a costume party after all.
But the young performer achieved a real moment of pathos in Act 2 after being hit on by the sensationally villainous and disdainful Callaghan (Barney Fritz) who commanded from the opening bars of Blood in the Water.
The aftermath of Callaghan’s exploitation of male power was a moment of such seriousness and relevance that cuts straight through the candyfloss.
Emily Harper, Jenny Coates and Tabitha Halkes were endearing as Elle’s trio of slightly vapid yet encouraging sorority sisters.
They made the most of their stand-out lines – some dripping in innuendo – and their reappearances as the Greek Chorus (figments of Elle’s imagination) were enlivened with personality and pizazz.
UPS delivery man Kyle, played by Harry Newton, had scene-stealing moments as he strutted across the stage in tight shorts that elicited spontaneous applause.
Hannah Qureshi made an impression with the aggressive comedy of Enid, a man-hating eco-warrior law student, while Brendan Mageean was a suitably earnest Emmett, Elle’s mentor and true soulmate.
Rebecca d’Lacey’s Vivienne was a vicious ice-queen who thawed as she realised women needed to support each other, not fight over men.
And she cracked out some incredible vocals in the second half’s rousing title tune, Legally Blonde.
Florence Russell was a triple-threat and any time she was on stage you felt you were in safe hands.
Her Paulette was a New Jersey firecracker, harder than the film’s counterpart, who stole the show with her Riverdance routine and tin whistle solo.
I must mention George Fairclough, who, to avoid the necessity of live animals on stage, manoeuvred two stuffed toy dogs, accompanied by characterful barks and woofs.
It was probably the only time that I was aware this was a student production and not for his lack of commitment.
The 24-strong cast were clearly enjoying themselves, especially in the large production numbers like Scene of the Crime and each role was delivered with class and professionalism.
Bubbly and uplifting, Legally Blonde was a memorable evening of entertainment and a fantastic showcase for a strong cohort of Trinity Laban students.
Legally Blonde The Musical
Bubbly & uplifting, Legally Blonde was memorable and a fantastic showcase for Trinity Laban students, says guest reviewer Rupert Lawrence.