Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Friday 10th November, 2017
I have seen this show before, years ago, but if you put a gun to my head I would be able to tell you very little about it. Now it’s doing the rounds again, I put a gun to my own head and settle into my seat – and it’s like coming to the show completely fresh.
Basically, it’s a fairy tale with protagonist Elle Woods our Disney princess, with her pink wardrobe and her long blonde locks. She is of the view that ‘love’ (seen here as landing a husband) is the be-all and end-all and, to that end, follows her boyfriend to Harvard Law School, right after he dumps her for not being ‘serious’. She is willing to change herself to get her man. She even visits hairdresser Paulette to become a brunette. So far, so Little Mermaid.
Heather Hach’s book for the show, based on Amanda Brown’s novel and the tepid film, adds a spin to the fairy story, more girl power than out-and-out feminism, as Elle develops and becomes her own woman. It’s not her ex’s new squeeze Vivienne who is the enemy, Elle learns, but the patriarchy! Who knew?
In the lead role, Lucie Jones (who did us proud at Eurovision this year) is stonkingly good as the beautiful, not-so-ditzy Elle. Her performance is central to the energy of the whole and she is very, very funny. Bill Ward has washed off the mud of farm life in Emmerdale and scrubs up well to become the suave Professor Callahan – in a highly topical turn of events, this powerful man makes a move on his intern. Things do not end well for him. Ward is strong, channelling Billy Flynn from Chicago with his own brand of hard-nosed razzle dazzle.
Rita Simons has shaken off the misery of Albert Square and is almost unrecognisable beneath a towering straggly wig as blue-collar hairdresser Paulette, bringing humour and energy to the part. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile before.
Liam Doyle is suitably handsome as the caddish boyfriend Warner Huntington III, contrasting with David Barrett’s sweetly bookish Emmett, and Laura Harrison is in great voice as the glamorous Vivienne. There is super support from ensemble members: I particularly enjoy Felipe Bejarano’s Nikos and Lucyelle Cliffe in a range of female roles including a Judge and Elle’s mother. Helen Petrovna’s fitness guru Brooke does wonders with a skipping rope – here the choreography of director Anthony Williams and Dean Street is at its most impressive.
Elle’s sorority sisters serve as a kind of Greek chorus in her mind. They come and go in a range of outfits and are fit to bursting with energy. After a while though, I begin to find them a bit too shrill, a bit too bouncy, and I wish I had some Ritalin to throw at the stage. And why is it that whenever live dogs appear on stage, people ooh and ahh as if they’ve never seen such a creature? A live dog will always upstage the action – tonight ‘Rufus’ – a ‘local star canine’ – almost mounts Rita Simons’s leg in a showstopping, hilarious moment.
And so this time round, I enjoyed it a lot. The book is good, the lyrics are witty (especially in the rhyming triplets) and the whole thing is engagingly presented. What keeps the show from being a great musical is, unfortunately, the score. The songs are instantly forgettable, no matter how well sung. And there is an entirely unnecessary ‘mega-mix’ at the end to remind me of the score’s shortcomings before I go home. It really needs a showstopper and a couple of hits that would become standards to cement the show’s place in the musical theatre firmament. You might say it needs more highlights.