Legally Blonde the Musical is perhaps the biggest blockbuster musical to hit Australia since Wicked. Unlike Wicked, Legally Blonde hasn’t made it into our public consciousness, and as a result is a fresh, new and surprising show for the majority of those who see it. Coming to us via London’s West End, Australia has picked up the London version of the show, with its various changes, and unfortunately, we’ve lost some of the budget along the way. The sets are less elaborate than the Broadway originals, most notably the Delta Nu Sorioraty house in the opening number Ohmigod You Guys and the missing revolving door in the Act 2 number Legally Blonde which prompted a number of lyric changes. Perhaps more importantly, the cast size has shrunk by at least one member, with the ninth Delta Nu girl being cut and most obviously replaced by a bag in the Act 1 finale.
From a cast perspective, the big names are of course Lucy Durack and Rob Mills, both of whom we last saw in Wicked. While Durack is certainly the leading lady of Australia’s musical theatre scene, I question whether she has the warmth in her lower register to do justice to the role of Elle Woods. Mills has been perfectly cast as Warner, oozing happy-go-lucky charm and just a little smarm and misogynist condescension. Credit must go to David Harris as Emmett and Erika Heynatz as Brooke who were easily the best performers on the night, and Cameron Daddo cut an imposing figure as Professor Callahan, although he faltered a little in Act 2. Surprise of the show goes to Mike Snells as Bredan the UPS guy, who we last saw on TV’s I Will Survive.
Production-wise the sets still look awesome, and the production team have made good use of the stage lighting to frame the scenes and the delivery is tight, although some of the songs were a little below tempo and Durack appeared to be pacing herself or concentrating very hard on nailing the choreography, at the expense of performance. Of course, with what I saw being a preview, it is fair to expect the show to get tighter as the cast settle into it, and I fully expect audiences to be wowed by production numbers like Whipped Into Shape, and Bend and Snap.
For me, the biggest throw was Durack’s affection of the Californian Valley Girl accent. While it made perfect sense for Elle as a character, and gave her more room to grow, it made her appear to be dumber than I think she was meant to be, particulary because her accent was not backed up by the rest of the Delta Nu girls, with Margot in particular sounding more Bogan than Valley Girl. The message of Legally Blonde, to me, has always been that you can be both beautiful and smart, and in the musical, Elle always struck me as someone smart who had always put her energy into the superficial, and shone once she got a chip on her shoulder and applied herself to something else. The lone accent undermined that for me as it seemed to single her out as stupid by association, which coloured the rest of the performance. Still, as I said, I saw a preview, and I think I’d like to see it again–preferably if it comes to Melbourne. If it does, I hope they bring some merchandise for guys as well. I really wanted a T-shirt. If you go and see it, I recommend getting a seat in the centre, as the blocking is such that seats on the far left or right of the stage will spend a fair bit of time looking at the back of heads, even if the main action should be clearly visable.