18th April, 2016
Let me begin by saying I love Legally Blonde. It’s fluffy and feel-good and, yes, it has been dismissed (wrongly, I believe) as mere bubblegum feminism, but the message it sends out to women and girls is commendable; celebrating supportive female relationships and the importance of staying true to yourself. And everyone loves a good courtroom drama, right? So when it came to seeing Nikolai Foster’s latest production of the 2007 musical I admit that I was predisposed to enjoy it. And while the use of Curve’s technical abilities may be wasted – or at best, half-hearted – I did enjoy it.
It is rather unfortunate that while having the technical facilities to pull off big, spectacular set pieces (as seen before in Curve’s hosting the visually impressive Finding Neverland and Waterbabies), when it comes to their own productions the stage is often somewhat lacking. Legally Blonde is no different in this respect. The entire stage has been spray-painted pink. A hot, garish pink which even Elle Woods herself would declare as being a bit OTT. It smacks of laziness and the effect, to be polite, is tacky.
The budget seems to have been blown on superfluous neon lighting and projections which add little, barring the effective use of video in the Brooke Wyndham ‘Whipped Into Shape’ number. Consequently the pieces of constructed set look to have been cobbled together in haste. Amidst the exposed nails and chipped paint, the beds and closets were alarmingly wobbly at times and the loud creaking accompanying many of the set changes did nothing to alleviate my worries. It’s a shame because beneath the dodgy aesthetic, the show is in good shape, and leaves one feeling that Curve’s over-reliance on budget stretching shortcuts indicates a lack of faith in their own productions, which is rather sad.
With that said, my misgivings concerning the design elements were made up for by the exuberant performances, and the energetic choreography enlivens and counterbalances the sparseness of the set. The ensemble are extremely hard-working and display true triple-threat talent, especially the female cast members. Lucie Jones is a likable Elle with a stellar voice, if a little subdued in the comedic sections. She is backed up by solid supporting performances from the likes of Jon Robyns’ nerdy Emmett and Tupele Dorgu as the brassy but down-trodden Paulette.
While some of the self-referential lines felt crowbarred in – do people still associate Jones with The X Factor? It was six years ago and she’s made quite a name for herself in musical theatre since – the second half especially gained a great response from the audience, ‘There, Right There’ being a particular highlight in which the whole ensemble shine. I’ve also come to the conclusion that there really is nothing an audience likes more than seeing a dog (or two) on stage – guaranteed ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’!
It’s heartwarming to spend an evening enveloped in the fluffy, girly world of Elle Woods and I came out of Legally Blonde humming the songs and feeling slightly better about the world. But I put this feeling down to the sheer joy of Benjamin and O’Keefe’s score, the natural humour of Hach’s book and the inexhaustible efforts of the cast, as opposed to Foster’s direction. As a piece of good-natured, poppy musical theatre it’s nigh on impossible to dislike.
Legally Blonde plays at Curve, Leicester until 14th May 2016.