Irresistible guilty pleasure Legally Blonde returns in a blue-chip boutique production anchored by a dazzling star turn from Samm Hagen as everyone’s favourite pretty-in-pink law student, little Miss Woods, Elle.
Whilst most independent companies focus on chamber-sized musicals, James Terry Collective has taken a gamble on a scaled down staging of splashy Broadway musical Legally Blonde and the risk has paid off handsomely. Showing well-placed confidence, the production is drastically scaled down in terms of sets, wisely saving the money for a full professional cast and, even more impressively, full band of 14 musicians.
The show more than stands up to the streamlined treatment, with extra focus able to be expended on the deliciously dense lyrics of Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s songs, and the heart and soul of Heather Hach’s shines through clear and proud. Written back in 2007, Legally Blonde is a rosy fable for the #MeToo era, with sleazy Professor Callahan’s comeuppance dispensed swiftly and definitively. More welcome than ever, the overall message of sisterhood and female empowerment is very well showcased.
A key attraction of the revival is the opportunity to see wunderkind Michael Ralph take on the dual role of director/choreographer again. Structured book musical Legally Blonde does not offer the interpretive flexibility of concept musical Nine, yet Ralph makes the show his own, amplifying character work to replace scenic effect, keeping crisp storytelling to the fore and, of course, providing eye-popping, razor tight choreography that is a spectacle in its own right. Energy is sky high, scenes changes are drilled with military precision and comedy is expertly realised.
Musical director Katie Weston brings the utterly infectious score roaring back to life. Marcello Lo Ricco’s reliably pristine sound design allows the contribution of every musician to be distinctly heard and ensemble harmonies are also at a premium, all sung live, even while skipping!
In a witty touch, set designer Dave Angelico places the action on a giant pink cover of Elle magazine. Two scenic panels glide about to smoothly represent the various locales, aided by a few pieces of furniture. The simplified scenery gives lighting designer Jason Bovaird the heavy lifting in regard to delineating the space, a challenge that is met with characteristic flair.
Jacinda Hill shows no signs of working on a limited budget, providing a seemingly endless parade of cute, colourful costumes. Elle dazzles at every turn, with other highlights including Vivian’s corporate chic and Paulette’s quirky individuality*.
Statuesque natural blonde Hagen is more than just a physical fit for Elle. Possessing an effortless belt, Hagen sings the role superbly. Enjoying strong chemistry with her castmates, Hagen captures the beauty of Elle’s heart to perfection. Finally, Hagen is an accomplished dancer, easily able to dance Ralph’s zesty choreography alongside the ensemble.
In a well-judged performance, Evan Lever keeps teaching assistant Emmett largely in the background, allowing a nice slow burn for his gentle romance with Elle. Tod Strike keeps Professor Callahan coiled and ready to strike, performing with authority and polish that reflect his extensive experience.
Willow Sizer delights in contrasting earthy hairdresser Paulette with the hyper pink cheerleading set, bringing warmth and compassion to the charming role. Joshua Firman captures Warner’s spineless spoiled superficiality in a neatly understated performance. With her sharp delivery and charismatic presence, Lala Barlow elevates supporting character Vivian the viper, scoring extra points for a hilarious early cameo as opportunistic sales assistant Courtney.
Sophie Stewart (Serena), Tayal Coad (Margot) and Asmara Soekotjo (Pilar) shine as Elle’s sorority sister Greek chorus, delivering vibrant vocals and dazzling dance moves.
Additional joy comes from dachshund Sir Duke as Elle’s beloved Bruiser (sharing the role with Taco) and Chopper as Paulette’s roly-poly Rufus.
Don your best pink and prepare to fall in love with Elle and co all over again.
Legally Blonde plays at Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne until 8 December 2019.
*Also, a significant portion of the audience thanks Ms Hill for UPS delivery guy Kyle’s shorts.
Photos: James Terry