Pure, unadulterated music theatre bliss, Legally Blonde is a roller coaster ride of musical pleasure that captures your heart from the first minutes and just doesn’t let go. A giddy delight, Legally Blonde leaves the audience in a state of delirious joy.
A sparkling replication of the 2010 staging at London’s Savoy Theatre, the joyous Australian production has a superb cast, crowned by golden girl Lucy Durack in the role she was born to play.
The 2007 Broadway premiere, which a managed a respectable 18 month stay, never managed to find that special theatrical spark that characterizes a hit. Shut out of the 2007 Tonys, the show may not have found its way to Australia if not for the streamlined, refocused London production, which, instead of taking itself seriously, embraced the joyful silliness of the modern fairy tale and delivered nothing but electric fun.
Broadway’s Jerry Mitchell, who was awarded a lifetime achievement award this week in New York, repeats directing/choreographing duties here to great success. More than choreographing the performers, Mitchell has the sets, designed by fellow Broadway master Norman Rockwell, gliding and flowing into place so smoothly that scene changes are barely noticed. Use of rear black curtains as an opening and closing iris effect completes the cinematic flair on display.
Faithfully adapted by Heather Hach from the hit 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie, the musical both honors and enhances its source, taking us from the sunny dorms of UCLA to the hallowed halls of Harvard. The stroke of genius at the heart of the story is the explicit inclusion of the study and sacrifice Elle goes through to achieve her goals. Her ingenuity, integrity and passion for the law develop before our eyes, making her ultimate success all the more believable. The final feature that really rounds Elle off as a perfect role model is her realization that love is not just about the superficiality of looks and popularity. It is the rare music theatre heroine whose journey is concluded satisfactorily by realizing she actually does not want the focus of her opening ‘I wish’ song.
Elle’s is not the only journey on show. Warner, Elle’s original heartthrob, is gradually shown as a sexist, egotistical jerk. Catty classmate Vivienne learns the meaning of girl power. And genuine good guy Emmett Forrest blossoms from university lingerer to mature attorney at law.
The score for Legally Blonde, by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin, is surely one of the most infectious and instantly accessible for many years. Better yet, the lyrics are smart and sassy, with the courtroom song “There, Right There” (whose title doesn’t give away the punchline) a highpoint. The writing is of the modern music theatre style, seen in hits such as Wicked and Billy Elliot, where the songs hurtle the action forward, seamlessly integrating elements of exposition, character development, story telling choreography, set and costume changes. So much happens in “What You Want” that the location even change coasts as the number progresses. “Bend and Snap” seems like a boppy charm song but provides a crucial plot point in the next scene.
So much of the show is musicalised that music director Kellie Dickerson must barely have time to put down her baton. The band rocks out the poppy score brilliantly, with further proof of Dickerson’s towering skills heard in the pristine diction of the entire cast.
Completing the theatrical heaven, and contributing significantly to the storytelling, are the costume designs of Greg Barnes, a witty but grounded pastiche of youth culture and designer label obsession. Faux Burberry and Chanel looks are mixed with outsized houndstooth prints and colourful pinstripes to delicious effect. The finale demonstrates the joy Elle has spread to all those around her by having touches of her signature colour of pink in the full company’s costumes.
Durack’s stellar achievement as Elle cannot be overstated. Exuding irresistible charm and beauty, Durack makes the role her own and gains the love of the entire audience. With singing, acting and dancing of the highest calibre, Durack has clearly cemented her position as a leading lady of the Australian music theatre stage.
Leading man David Harris is the perfect choice for the adorkable Emmett, similarly gaining the audience’s affection as he sells the slow burning love story between Emmett and Elle. Harris’ singing, not even stretched to its full capabilities here, is excellent.
Helen Dallimore makes a welcome appearance in the role of Elle’s friend and mentor, beautician Paulette. Dallimore effortlessly captures the warmth and compassion of Paulette, and beautifully delivers some of the show’s only quiet moments of singing. Paulette’s surprise Riverdancing romance is an act two highlight.
Rob Mills expertly portrays the vain, vacuous Warner, looking the very picture of a US college jock. Finally back on the Australian stage, Cameron Daddo successfully plays against type as the ruthless law professor Callahan. As skipping tycoon and accused murderess Brooke Wyndham, Erika Heynatz’s abs have to be seen to be believed; her acting and singing prove just as impressive.
The divine trio of Chloe Zuel, Ashlea Pyke and Renee Burleigh are set to be worshipped as Elle’s sorority sisters Pilar, Serena and Margot. Ali Calder makes a tremendous impression as Vivienne. Mike Snell is great fun as delivery-guy-with-a-package Kyle.
The incredibly hard working ensemble, each and every one a triple threat, play an astounding multitude of characters. Standouts are very hard to pick, but mention must be made of Euan Doidge’s hilarious work as Nikos and Zoe Jarrett’s delightful characterisation of lusty closet lesbian Enid.
Legally Blonde is the epitome of the reason theatregoers fall in love with musicals. The thought of the current Glee generation having an experience of live theatre with this show is absolutely thrilling. Do whatever you can to secure a ticket.
Photos: Jeff Busby
This review published on Theatre People 5 October 2012.