Omigod you guys, can you believe it’s been more than two decades since the world was introduced to Elle Woods in the MGM film Legally Blonde, based on Amanda Brown’s novel. Shortly after the release, Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin and Heather Hach’s musical adaptation opened on Broadway to mixed reviews, though the London transfer did fare better.
Now Legally Blonde is revived at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, directed by co-director and co-writer of SIX, and now multiple Tony nominee, Lucy Moss. There’s no shortage of screen to stage adaptations in London right now but in the two decades that have followed since the release of the film, the world has changed a lot; audiences may be wondering if a script so reliant on stereotypes, and a central character that’s a ‘dumb blonde’, can still work in 2022.
Elle is heartbroken when her boyfriend, Warner, splits up with her, so much so she gets herself into the same school as him, studying law. The audience, like most of the characters, assume that an ‘airhead’ like Elle wouldn’t have be intelligent enough to complete the course, but Elle puts her knowledge of fashion and make-up to new uses, eventually defending fitness queen Brooke Wyndham on a murder charge.
While the production could have easily been revived as a carbon copy of the 2010 run at the Savoy Theatre, Lucy Moss has dragged the musical into the roaring twenties with a talented, and more importantly, diverse cast. There’s still a great deal of pink, and stereotypes abound, but Moss very cleverly redefines, and often smashes, those stereotypes and with every bend and snap, no-one can escape a satirical jab.
Courtney Bowman confidently leads the cast as Elle, reinventing the character for the modern world, showing Elle needn’t be a Jackie nor a Marilyn. Bowman’s Elle is sassy and spirited, saying just enough with a knowing glance to have the audience in stitches.
There’s good chemistry between Bowman and Alistair Toovey, wonderful as the self-absorbed Warner, but it’s in the scenes with Nadine Higgin as Paulette where the story comes alive. Paulette’s b-plot is perfectly shaped by Higgin, adding some kind of depth to this ostensibly comic musical.
Those who have seen the film will know that Emmett becomes an important figure in Elle’s life, and in this Legally Blonde the role is played with perfect nuance by Michael Ahomka-Lindsay. Emmett’s big number ‘Chip On My Shoulder’ is carried off with aplomb and the audience is left rooting for this character thanks to Ahomka-Lindsay.
Legally Blonde relies on a back story of privilege, Elle’s Harvard education is funded by her presumably rich father, and her shopping habit is next level. While the set and costumes don’t necessarily reflect this affluence, it doesn’t distract from the genuinely ecstatic feeling the musical gifts its audience, particularly in the high energy dance routines that choreographer Ellen Kane has so perfectly created.
Legally Blonde has always intended to be a comedy musical, but it somehow feels even funnier as Moss allows it to laugh at itself; Elle’s dog is a human in a furry costume but the execution of it is positively hilarious. The catchy tunes that have the audience desperate to stand up and dance are emphasised by bright and colourful lighting design.
This bold and beautiful Open Air Theatre production of Legally Blonde leaves previous productions felling like a pair of last season Prada shoes; still pretty but no longer on trend. This Legally Blonde embraces beauty in all its forms, tears up the rule book, and creates a feel good sensation that makes for one hell of a fun night out.