LEGALLY BLONDE – The Musical
Stratford Play House, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 6th May 2022
Stratford Musical Theatre Company turn their talented hands to the musical adaptation of the well-known Reese Witherspoon comedy film, in a vibrant production at the Play House, a venue that is more suited to bands and stand-up comedians. And so the staging tonight is minimal, leaving the floor free for the large chorus to occupy – director Georgie Wood has drilled her cast to maximum efficiency for getting things on and getting things off again, so the piece runs like clockwork.
It’s the story of Elle Woods who, dumped by her egotistic boyfriend, follows him to Harvard Law School in hot pink and hot pursuit, as though getting a law degree will win the chump back… Elle is faced with prejudice because of her looks and demeanour but she overcomes obstacles to prove she is top of the class, and hey, you don’t need a man to make you happy… The show’s message seems to be about not judging books by their covers and breaking down stereotypes, which is a pertinent point to make: to be one’s authentic self. Why then, does writer Heather Hach tarnish the piece with homophobic representations of LGBTQ+ people, who don’t get a chance to demonstrate they are more than the effeminate, posing, skipping fairies we are subjected to here? Signs, I think, of the material exceeding its show-by date. I cringe throughout the song Gay Or European which goes against the positive stereotype-busting message of the rest of it.
Leading the cast as the titular blonde Elle Woods, Vanessa Gravestock delivers an engaging, impressive performance, balancing the dumb-blonde looks with Elle’s innate intelligence. She’s an appealing presence with the star quality required by the role.
Other highlights (because she’s blonde!) include Christopher Dobson as the tough-talking Professor, effortlessly exuding his dominance and high status; Casey McKernan amuses as Elle’s cocksure ex Warner; Ian Meikle endears himself as mild-mannered love interest Emmett; Katie Merrygold is stonkingly good as Elle’s new BFF, Paulette Buonufonte; and Oliver Payne makes a scene-stealing appearance as delivery man Kyle.
It doesn’t matter what the cast does though, because any time a dog is brought on, it immediately upstages everyone else! And I can’t help wondering if the situation is stressful for the animals.
The chorus is great, filling the space with energy and performing Julie Bedlow-Howard’s lively choreography. In particular, a cheerleading number is splendid.
The singing too is all the more impressive when you realise the singers can’t see musical director James Suckling and the band, who are walled up behind the backdrop!
Unfortunately, there are missed lighting and sound cues, and this is not opening night where you can excuse a few hitches. Microphone coverage is patchy. It feels like the show could have done with at least one more technical rehearsal to make these elements of the production as sharp as the rest of it.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆