Despite a disappointing script, this musical shines with strong performances and show-stopping dance numbers.
The cast of Legally Blonde. Image: Ross Gould.
While best known as the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon, the musical version of Legally Blonde is currently amazing Canberra audiences. Legally Blonde follows Delta Nu sorority queen Elle Woods on her quest to Harvard Law School in order to win back the love of her life. With the support of her Greek chorus and hairdresser Paulette, she sets out to prove that blondes are capable of more than they seem.
Charlotte Gearside is the star of Canberra Philharmonic Society’s show as Elle Woods, maintaining a captive audience from beginning to end. She stuns with brilliant vocals, flawless dancing and effortless charisma. She pulls off every pink and glittery outfit with confidence and charm. At the climax of the show, there’s not a dry eye in the house when she sings the titular Legally Blonde as Elle considers giving up and going back to Malibu. No one can be Reese Witherspoon, but her performance definitely comes close.
Gearside is backed up by excellent supporting performances from Hannah Maurice as Paulette and Caitlin Schilg as Brooke Wyndam. Maurice turns eclectic song Ireland into a showstopper and Schilg performs an extremely complicated skipping and jumping exercise routine while singing Whipped Into Shape.
Hannah Maurice as Paulette and Charlotte Gearside as Elle Woods. Image: Ross Gould.
This is definitely not a show to miss if you’re a fan of big dance numbers because Legally Blonde really delivers. There are so many different types of dance within the show, including cheerleading and Irish riverdance, so there’s something for everyone. It’s hard to believe that this is choreographer Sarah Tulley’s musical theatre debut because she has absolutely nailed it.
However, the show is let down by a disappointing script. Where the movie challenges stereotypes and puts fun twists on conventional storytelling, the musical lacks nuance. Elle’s character remains intact, but many of her supporting cast are reduced to two-dimensional roles. Warner’s new girlfriend Vivian is much more villainous and Paulette’s love interest Kyle becomes nothing more than a one-line joke about a delivery guy straight out of a porn film. But the biggest change is the character of junior lawyer Emmett Forrest. He acts as a support for Elle in the movie, but plays a much bigger role in the musical as her guide and mentor in all things law school. It’s a shame when the focus of the story is meant to be that Elle makes things happen for herself instead of needing someone else to lead the way.
Legally Blonde still shines despite not quite living up to the movie’s cult status. It is exciting to see a musical with a majority female cast, including principals, as most musicals are still male-dominated.
If anything, dogs Ivy and Winston Barry Ladlow as Bruiser and Rufus are such scene stealers that the whole show is worth it just for their adorable performances.
3.5 stars out of 5 ★★★☆
Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin
Book by Heather Hach
Based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the Metro-Golden-Mayer motion picture
Directed by Jim McMullen
Musical Direction by Richard Daley
Choreography by Sarah Tulley
22 August-7 September 2019
Canberra Philharmonic Society, Erindale Theatre ACT