Saturday, 9 January 2010

New beginnings, new musicals

The first musical that I saw of 2010 was a new, original musical which isn't a revival or something that's been running for years and years. I love living so close to London, where every year a vast quantity of acclaimed plays open, and where there are amazing producing houses such as the National Theatre and the Old Vic, but sometimes I can't help feeling jealous of the folk who live in New York. On Broadway around ten new musicals open every year, with at least four or five being original. I was pleased when I heard that Legally Blonde was to open in London, because although it first opened on Broadway it is a new musical. After the Spring Awakening fiasco, it's probable success may prompt producers to transfer In the Heights or Next to Normal. I know they're completely different to Legally Blonde with different themes and target markets, but you never know.

Despite the snow, the theatre was full. The majority of the audience was in high spirits to say the least. This excitement seemed to grow when certain cast members appeared on the stage. I don't think I've ever seen such an excited audience! Here is my shorter than usual review:

The book of the musical was written by Heather Hach. Although many of the jokes were quite predictable, they proved to be surprisingly witty and a lot more amusing than those in similar pieces. The characters all had subtle differences in the way their speech was written, which was enough to develop their characters but not to make it seem like a pantomime.

The score was catchy. By no means was it Gershwin, but it will be enjoyable to listen to again and again and certainly suited the theme of the story. It certainly lent itself well to the choreography, which was not over-complicated and executed very well by the cast.

The show originally opened in 2007 at the Palace Theatre on Broadway, which has a significantly larger stage than the Savoy. The set has not been changed in any way, so it was amazing to see how it had been downscaled to fit on a smaller stage. That must have taken a lot of work. The set really good and reminded me of the Sister Act set at times. There was just the right amount for most scenes, and set movement never disrupted the flow of the show.

The cast appeared to be on top form, probably conscious not only of the presence of several critics but also of the looming opening night on Wednesday. Sheridan Smith shone as Elle Woods, her accent was flawless and she carried the show extremely well. She managed to pull off the ditzy part of Elle but also showed depth and was very endearing. Despite having not much in the way of formal vocal and dance training she succeeded very well in these aspects, and is now one of my favourite stage actresses.

Duncan James as Warner was “regulation hottie”, as it would probably be said in America. His performance was okay, nothing out of the ordinary. Alex Gaumond’s Emmett, like Warner, was overshadowed by Sheridan and the supporting cast, but played a second, enjoyable romantic lead.

As Paulette, Jill Halfpenny did not disappoint, probably giving the most impressive vocal performance in the show. I had no idea of her acting talents before today and was stunned by her ability to be comedic but not over the top.

When I saw Chicago I was lucky enough to see Aoife Mullholland play Roxie Hart. Today as Brooke she was fantastic – how she managed to sing whilst skipping during Whipped Into Shape is totally beyond me! Her role was a bit similar to Roxie Hart in the way of events which happen to the characters, but the way she played her was totally different. She definitely stole the first part of the second act.

I can vaguely remember Caroline Keiff playing Nessarose when I saw Wicked, and thinking that her performance and Kerry Ellis were two of the very few things I liked about the show. Today she played Vivienne, another supporting role. I can’t imagine her in a lead role, but I think that she is a great supporting actress who has great chemistry with loads of other actors. She made the role of Vivienne interesting and more than the stereotype it could have slipped into.

Finally, Peter Davison as Proffesor Callahan gave an enjoyable performance and rounded off the principal cast nicely. A special mention must go to the two dogs who’s participation resulted in many “ahs” from the audience. I’m not a particular dog person, but will admit that they were cute. The ensemble performed with great energy, doing a lot more than perhaps a typical ensemble would in a musical. Every member was given a chance to shine in their own way.

Overall, I am sure that Legally Blonde will become a cult hit in the West End, particularly with teenage girls. It’s great to see a variety of shows being successful so there’s something for everyone. It’s also nice to see a cast made up of quite a few well known people perform so well.

I give Legally Blonde 3 ½ stars out five and have ranked it at number 12 on my ongoing top musicals list, directly below Mary Poppins and directly above Little Shop of Horrors. It was very enjoyable, and is sure to cheer anyone up.

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