Legally Blonde, the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon was a ‘Naughties hit and showed Blondes aren’t all ditzy, Malibu Barbie lookalikes. Having missed the professional production of the musical when it came to Sydney, I had heard mixed reviews.
Some said it was fantastically witty and the songs bring a whole new tone to the phrase “Omigod!”, whilst others say that in a professional setting it feels a bit contrived and lacks the emotional depth needed for a strong show about female empowerment unlike other musical counterparts, let’s say Made in Dagenham.
My opinion is that Legally Blonde fits into the category of shows such as The Addams Family, where in the resplendent theatre scenes in can sometimes be a flop, however, if you put it into the hands of an Amateur Theatre company, it can soar – granted you can bring all the theatrical facets needed together.
So how did the Quay Players do in this task?
Well, the Greenwood Theatre was a deceptive space to sit in to begin with. As I pulled out a sidetable from the lecture theatre chairs to sit my beer on, I felt that I was back at University. Although I did chuckle to myself, for a show set at Harvard Law School, this seemed like it suited the performance – art imitating life.
For those few who are unaware of the film or the musical, the premise of Legally Blonde is as follows: Elle Woods, Malibu socialite and head of Delta Nus Sorority applies to Harvard Law School to follow the man of her dreams, Warner Huntington III, after he breaks up with her stating that he needs a “Jackie (Kennedy)”, not a “Marilyn (Munroe)”. Here we see her struggle to overcome the pretty “dumb-blonde” stereotype she’s been born into and show Harvard Law what she’s truly made of.
Director Julianne Palmer clearly had on her hands a hardworking, dedicated and professionally presented cast to portray this well-known story. In fact, the cast were the strongest thing about the entire show – more on this ambiguity in a second.
As the blonde bombshell Elle Woods, Stephanie McKelvey-Aves brought her to life with affectionate flavour and honesty. A lot of actresses could have easily thrown Elle into a Keeping Up with the Kardashians caricature or just as easily not brought the emotional stability needed to make her real. Thankfully, McKelvey-Aves landed right in the middle. Seeing as Elle is on stage ninety-percent of the time, she was the audiences guide for the evening. Although not the strongest dancer in the cast, McKelvey-Aves sung all of Elle’s songs tunefully and brought honesty to all the relationships she had with the other characters in the show.
As Elle’s unlikely best friend, Paulette, played by Caroline Smith, the show saw (in my opinion) it’s closest West End level performer. Smith made the character of Paulette her own and never missed a beat through the entire performance. Tim Watson, who played awkward but inspirational love interest Emmet Forrest, made you truly believe every word that came out of his mouth; hats off to Watson for the true honesty he brought to the show.
Other characters Warner Huntington III (Tom Adams), Professor Callahan (Shaun Smith), Vivienne Kensington (Alison Doyle – Who really should have had more songs, what a voice!) and Brooke Wyndham (Sarah Jefferies – Who can jump rope and sing at the same time!) all played their roles well with each having their own unique opportunity to stand out.
As in most musicals, the ensemble have a lot to play with and this show was no exception. Each ensemble who entered the stage seemed to be having the time of their lives, which always brings a smile to the audience’s face. Whether it was the Greek Chorus, headed by Cat Palethorpe, Jenny Galloway and Rachel Murphy – each of who were strong singers, actors and dancers – the UPS delivery man Kyle B. O’Boyle – who enters as if in a Magic Mike contest – or the various boy groups, OhMyGod girls and so on, each actor built upon the layers of the show.
Now to answer the ambiguous statement from earlier. Whilst sometimes having a large cast can bring overpowering sound to a theatre, Palmer could have easily done with less cast at certain times. Choosing to bring people on as miscellaneous characters just for a laugh but without adding to the scene was, more than often an in-joke and didn’t stick well with the show as a whole. Other times, these characters who did not serve the scene distracted from the main action and the plot, which needed to be followed as I couldn’t hear the words a majority of the time.
As well as this, the show really suffered from its technical aspects, the sound, lighting and overly long set changes never fully allowed me to be immersed within the show itself and instead had me straining to hear the dialogue and songs over the band.
Having said this, the cast (again) powered through and never once made it seem like they were aware of their failing tech.
In regards to the choreography, I’d come back to see this show do a dance centred show, the choreography was so brilliantly sequenced that all the more intense dances were completely synchronised and energetic. Eleanor Strutt (Choreographer) added flare to the show which was greatly needed to battle the technical aspects.
Legally Blonde was, at the end of the day, a very layered show with many different aspects having their time to shine through. I’d be interested to see this cast in other productions if they gave the same commitment and pizzazz to those shows as they did to this one.
Stin’s Final Thoughts: I know I forgot to mention the dogs used in the show but come on, you expect me to see a dog on stage and NOT love whatever it does?
Legally Blonde was playing at the Greenwood Theatre, London. Quay Players next production Hook plays 14th-16th December 2017. Auditions are Tuesday 8th August. Click the link below for their website and information.