The production, starring Courtney Bowman (Six, Everybody's Talking About Jamie) as Elle, kicks off Regent Park Open Air Theatre’s 90th birthday season. An infectious energy and self-awareness of its silliness make this new take on a weathered story pretty likeable, but in the fresh air, Moss’s production is let down by acoustics.
Based on the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon, itself inspired by a series of letters written by unhappy Stanford Law School major Amanda Brown, Legally Blonde the Musical follows fashion major Elle (Bowman), who manages to bag a place at Harvard Law School in spite of her bimbo hair and penchant for pink (did we mention the premise is ridiculous?). However, it’s not a career as a successful lawyer Elle is chasing, it’s her college sweetheart Warner Huntington III (Alistair Toovey, An Octoroon), who dumped her to find a more serious girlfriend. But Elle soon becomes a star pupil and, after meeting kindred spirits and fighting off a predatory professor, she realises there’s more to life than her derogatory ex.
Courtney Bowman (Elle), Billy Nevers (Ensemble) and Allie Daniel (Ensemble) in Legally Blonde at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo: Pamela Raith
The musical, which features a book by Heather Hach, and music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, dedicates whole songs to memorable moments from the cult chick flick, including, of course, the ‘bend and snap’ scene. Other numbers are more musically challenging, including the quasi-operatic Harvard Variations, about the privileged high-flyers the school typically attracts, and most are layered with tongue-in-cheek humour which makes the audience squeal, including the almost problematic Gay or European?. Choreographer Ellen Kane has the chorus rally around the lead singer of each number, performing routines as a tight-knit pack.
What sets Moss’s production apart from its predecessors is its casting. While both the original 2007 Broadway show starring Laura Bell Bundy, and 2009 West End transfer starring Sheridan Smith, mirrored the film’s white and wispy, Barbie-and-Ken-doll image, Moss reminds us of the broad spectrum of femininity with an ethnically diverse, body-positive, trans-inclusive ensemble, who all bring flair, panache and sex appeal to the show.
Joe Foster (Ensemble), Michael Ahomka-Lindsay (Emmett), Lucca Chadwick-Patel (Ensemble) and Alžbeta Matyšáková (Ensemble). Photo: Pamela Raith
Even Elle’s dog Bruiser is sexed up and sassy, personified by costume designer Jean Chan’s pooch-faced catsuit and performed here with a flirty, uppity little trot by Liam McEvoy.
What lets this production down is Tony Gayle’s sound design, which seems to fight the open-air acoustics of the theatre. On Laura Hopkins’ geometric set, shaped like a swollen pink and purple heart, with the orchestra buried in a covered pit behind the stage, songs are pelted into the auditorium via speakers in one of two volumes: loud or very loud. Some variety in tone would make for a more exhilarating ride.
Performances, though, are strong. Bowman brings bundles of energy and precision to the part of Elle, capturing her idealism and naive likeability. Nadine Higgin is the backbone of the show and one of its strongest singers in the role of Elle’s rock and friend Paulette. Vanessa Fisher bristles with snooty poise as Elle’s antagonist Vivienne, and Michael Ahomka-Lindsay commandeers the stage as the loveable Emmett.
Legally Blonde the Musical has a self-selecting audience who will come, most dressed in pink, regardless of grumbles about the sound – and this reviewer is not here to dissuade them; it's fluffy, frivolous and fun.
|What||Legally Blonde the Musical, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review|
|Where||Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, Inner Cir, Westminster, London, NW1 4NU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Baker Street (underground)|
13 May 22 – 02 Jul 22, 7:45 PM – 10:30 PM
|Price||£23 - £60|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|