Review – Legally Blonde, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 16th October 2017

Legally BlondeIt’s been the best part of eight years since I started writing this blog and imparting my words of wisdom (winky emoji) about all the shows we’re lucky to see. And the very first one that I had a crack at was the new (at the time) production of Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre with Sheridan Smith as Elle. We enjoyed it a lot.

LB the girlsAll these years later and we’ve now seen it a second time last night at the Royal and Derngate as the current touring production makes its way to Northampton for a week. Ohmygodyouguys you could feel the excited vibe in the packed audience. We’ve still not seen the film, and if you haven’t either, then let me explain: basically this is the story of pink bimbo Elle, who looks squeakily divine, knows every fashion trick under the sun and lives life like an article in a woman’s magazine. Long term boyfriend Warner has ambitions to become a Big Name in The Law, and plans to go to Harvard Law School to realise his dream. However, Elle is the archetypal pretty vacant girlie, and she’s the wrong image for his ambitious plans; ergo, ditched. To win him back, Elle vows to get accepted at Harvard Law School too. Warner’s horrified to find she’s followed him there – especially as she discovers he’s now going out with serious student and certified bitch Vivienne. Will any of them take it lying down? And does Elle have what it takes to become a successful lawyer, or is her brain as windswept as an aircraft hangar? You’ll have to see it to find out!

LB Elle at HarvardHaving loved the original production, I had high hopes for this new version; and I confess that I was a little disappointed in it. There’s no doubt that this is a good musical, but last night’s show was beset by quite a few problems that I hope get ironed out before any more performances take place. Up until the interval the sound quality was frankly poor. The performers and the orchestra were way over-amplified, resulting in vibrating booming from the pit and unintelligible lyrics from the singers and dancers. This is a real shame, because I remember that the lyrics and book are very witty; but at least half of it came over as garbled and very hard to follow. Some technical whizzkid obviously worked wonders during the interval and the second act was much more pleasing on the ear. Even so, there were still a few rather embarrassing moments, like seeing stagehands run in at the back to hold part of the set in place, having the restaurant scene and one of the hairdresser scenes take place on wobbly platforms, a stagehand smoothing out the edge of the big Irish flag that descended onto the stage, dancers colliding during one of the numbers and a swing boy getting tangled up in the skipping rope during a dance routine. I’m wondering if they were late getting installed because it didn’t feel like they’d done any kind of run through in the new theatre.

LB HarvardWhilst I’m in grumpy mood, we both thought the production looked a little cheap. I’m sure the idea behind the set designs was to create a kind of childish environment – rather than going for reality, they go for full-on cutesy, to reflect the personality of Elle and her UCLA cheerleaders. Accordingly, the library at the Harvard Law School and the court room both have a quirky, slightly fairy tale appearance, as though they’d just evicted the old woman who lived in a shoe. Fair enough I guess; but I didn’t at all like the backdrop they used to suggest the gardens – it was painted in a very lifeless and amateurish style. All it lacked was the pantomime horse.

LB the partyLet’s concentrate on some good things. Once you can actually hear what’s being said and sung, it is a very well-written and funny show, with some great set routines and scenes; such as the party where Elle turns up as a bunny girl, and the whole courtroom, bend and snap, gay or European routine. The audience, who clearly didn’t see it coming, were gobsmacked at the private scene between Elle and Callahan, which has been brought into sharp relevance with the recent Harvey Weinstein allegations.

LB ElleThere are also some very good performances, in particular Lucie Jones as Elle. You might call me biased, gentle reader, but I really admire the fact that her participation in the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK is listed as the top achievement in her programme bio. So many other actors who have performed at Eurovision erase it from their history (Samantha Womack take note). Lucie has a tremendous voice, full of colour and emotion, and she sings the whole show sensationally. She also brings out all the humour to give an excellent comic performance too.

LB EmmettDavid Barrett is also excellent as Emmett, selflessly helping Elle to make the most of her opportunities, coming out of his shell in his sharp suit (which got an ooh from the audience) and showing that the ugly duckling can sometimes go to the ball (if that’s not mixing my metaphorical fairy tales). I was also very impressed with Laura Harrison as Vivienne, deliciously revelling in Elle’s misery until she sees the error of her ways, and Helen Petrovna as both fitness queen Brooke and Vivienne’s catty friend Whitney. There were also a few performances that I didn’t really rate, partly explained by some surprisingly dull choreography, but I’ll leave it there.

LB Paulette and KyleI really wanted to enjoy this show so much, but for me there was too much that wasn’t quite right that stopped it from soaring. Still, I expect it will be way better in a couple of days’ time. Its lengthy tour continues all over the country, right round to next June, so there are plenty of opportunities to catch it.

Production photos by Robert Workman

West End Eurovision, Piccadilly Theatre, London, April 21st 2011

West End EurovisionHaving heard so much about these shows in the past, I was determined this year we would get tickets. And what a great idea that was, as this terrific show combines my two great loves of Theatre and Eurovision, and it’s clear from the audience that I am not alone!

It’s all done to support the Make a Difference Trust, who do great work to support people living with HIV and AIDS. This year, the casts of eleven west end shows came together to compete to win the coveted trophy. Gaby Roslin, with Denise van Outen Each show has to perform a Eurovision song – and not one that has been done in previous years. It’s an opportunity for their creative talents to work wonders, either making something completely new out of a well known song, or painstakingly observing and mimicking an original performance. Graham Norton The top two entries this year were great examples of both. Additionally, each show has an “ident” – a short film put together by each cast to introduce their song. There’s an additional voting prize for the best ident.

This year the glamorous proceedings were hosted by Gaby Roslin, looking resplendent and taking fun control; and the celebrity panel of judges were Graham Norton, Sheridan Smith and Justin Lee Collins. Sheridan Smith Each West End show entering also had a two-person judging panel, but of course in time honoured tradition they could not vote for their own show. I wonder where they got that idea from?

Justin Lee Collins Anyway the minutiae of these details are far less entertaining than the show itself. It’s bizarre to read in the programme, for example, “The Phantom of the Opera” perform “Diggi-loo Diggi-ley”, but perform it they did, right down to the golden shoes and the magic and wonder. “Wicked” created a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding version of “Aven Romale”, the 2009 Czech entry. “Dirty Dancing” took Carola’s “Captured by a Love Storm”. Diggi Loo Diggi Ley And there were many more. The cast of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” took Iceland’s “This is my Life” and used lots of bare chests and black leather.

Aven RomaleHowever, definitely the favourite of the audience was “The 39 Steps” taking Finland’s 1976 entry “Pump Pump” by Fredi and Friends. This was delightful because of the precise way their performance echoed the all-hallowed original. Fredi was there in his black outfit, slightly less plump than I remember him, This is my Lifebacked with his girl singer/dancers, the keyboard player and the two other backing performers, one of whom was perfectly decked out as the gormless guy in the grey jumper back in 1976. It was really funny, but really musical too and it completely won the audience over.

Pump Pump It didn’t however win. That honour went to probably the second favourite of the night, “Legally Blonde”’s version of Verka Seduchka’s “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”. Introduced by the evening’s winning ident, we got to know a little about Ukraine’s sensational star Dr Belond, and his creatively ludicrous sex-change clinic. Dancing Lasha Tumbai Dr Belond, who had a surprising resemblance to my best performance by an actor in a musical award winner and his team gave a fantastic performance that had everyone in hysterics from start to finish.

Dr Belond There was even a guest performance by Bucks Fizz, at least the three of them who aren’t Bobby G. Eurovision legends, looking great, singing…err.. a bit out of tune really. But no one cared. It was Bucks Fizz, goddammit!

If I’m honest, I think the show dragged a little during the voting but it was gone 1.30 am and I’m not one for staying up too late. But apart from that it was a marvellous evening and I cannot understate the commitment and creativity of these performers who did the whole night for charity.

Bucks Fizz Mrs Chrisparkle and I were fortunate to have VIP tickets, don’t you know, which not only gave us access to a free glass of champagne in a roped-off area of the bar before this show started, but also entry to the after show party. The only way we could work out the location of the party was to follow all the Beautiful People on the way out of the theatre wearing similar wristbands. Once we got there, it was a bit crowded so any chance of a relaxed chat with Bucks Fizz over their back catalogue was never going to happen. We did however get glimpses of Sheridan Smith (tiny but well built), Denise van Outen (tiny and slim) and Denise Welch (relatively tiny but bigger than the other two put together). It did feel quite daring for the two of us to be in such highly regarded company (although it’s not the same time we’ve been to the same party as Sheridan so there), but sleepiness took over and after a short time we night-bussed it back to our Travelodge.

Definitely look out for this event in the future!

Review – Legally Blonde – Savoy Theatre, London

Legally Like totally cosmic, wow. So I promised I would keep you up to date with my theatregoing, therefore it’s only right I should tell you about “Legally Blonde” the musical, which I saw last Saturday with Mrs Chrisparkle and Mother-in-law at the Savoy. Sometimes you just get one of those happy circumstances when everything falls right into place. I’m delighted to say that “Legally Blonde” is a joyful night at the theatre. Witty songs, star performances and perfect casting add up to a well deserved standing ovation. I’ve not seen the film but Mother-in-law had, had enjoyed it very much; but thought the musical show was better.

We’re still in Preview Mode for this show – one of the longest set of previews I can remember – so I guess it could all change before opening night, but why would they? This show is going to run and run, and with Sheridan Smith, (aka @Sheridansmith1 – go on, follow her, she’s very nice), we’ve got one of those “A Star Is Born” moments. She’s just perfect for the role of Elle, and with immaculate comic timing. She’s on stage nearly all the time and you never tire of seeing her. Also on top form are Jill Halfpenny whose Paulette was touching and hilarious, and to Aoife Mulholland (who’s come a long way since the pre-Maria days) dancing and skipping perfectly.

The courtroom scene is completely wonderful, engaging the audience and moving the story on apace with humour and musicality – everything a musical number should be. I’m a firm believer that, in musicals, you must come out of a song in a different place from where you went into it, if you know what I mean. The songs really need to move the story on. Nothing worse than a show where the songs hold up the story and you have to wait for them to finish before you can progress. No worries about that here. The courtroom song/scene does it brilliantly. Courtroom Scene

Duncan James fans made themselves known by whooping on his entrance; I thought they were going to ruin it, but they didn’t. Mr James himself absolutely looked the part even if I found his singing a trifle underwhelming. Alex Gaumond as Emmett struck the perfect note of being lovelorn without realising it.

Omigod you guys you just gotta see this show it’s like double totally fab. I had to put a sentence like that in, as it rather sums up one aspect of the show. But don’t be deluded into thinking this is a dumbed-down teenager-only-appealing entertainment. It’s a classically structured show and the best new musical I have seen for Some Considerable Time.