A year and a half since it opened in the West End - and still going strong there, where it won the 2010 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical - Legally Blonde the Musical has now hit the touring road in a production that offers a reasonable facsimile of the original. Though it has been streamlined a bit, especially scenically where painted flats sometimes substitute for sets, this staging still delivers the essence of what makes this show work so sensationally well.
Faye Brooks (Elle Woods) in Legally Blonde at the Empire, Liverpool Photo: Johan Persson
Like a 21st-century Grease, set not in a high school but at Harvard postgrad law school, its a grown-up pop musical for the post-Glee age (which is itself briefly referenced here, as is The Apprentice). Strangely enough, it long predates TV’s Glee and Broadway’s Wicked, both of which it also resembles in offering a portrait of female empowerment through song - but unlike Wicked, it doesn’t need extraneous spectacle or extensive back story to achieve its effects. Instead, that’s simply done by the strength of its story-telling, as the show’s heroine Elle Woods, abandoned by boyfriend Warner Huntington III, tries to win him back by enrolling in the same law school, but in fact wins something far more valuable - a sense of her own worth and abilities.
Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s somewhat formulaic Broadway score, with enough repeats and reprises to ingrain itself passingly in the memory, has more limited worth, though There! Right There! is a dazzling book number that becomes the central item of disclosure in the court case that Elle is fighting, to hilariously wonder aloud if a witness is gay or European (and in which we learn that “depending on the time of day/the French go either way”).
Jerry Mitchell, directing as well as choreographing, gives the show an irrepressible momentum, which is another way of saying relentlessness, too. But that energy becomes impossible to resist, especially in such sensational chorus numbers as Whipped into Shape, which has the company skipping in unison. And if the tender vulnerability that Sheridan Smith originally brought to Elle is missing, Faye Brookes brings a compensating vitality and vocal panache to the role instead. In a strong supporting cast, Dave Willetts is the most experienced hand, bringing a trim authority to Professor Callahan who runs the law course. This remains a show well worth enrolling for.