Theatre Review: Legally Blonde, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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                           Image Source: ATG

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy
Date: June 5 2018
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

There is a classic storyline whereby a good-looking girl and a strong-minded guy slowly fall in love, with the journey not running completely smoothly, and this is used in many theatre shows large and small. With Legally Blonde, though, the story operates in the reverse direction: Elle Woods (Lucie Jones) and Warner Huntington II (Liam Doyle) are already well into their relationship, and in fact Elle believes that Warner is about to propose. Instead, through song, he delivers the bad news that he actually wants to end their relationship, with his justification being that he wants to enter Harvard Law School and become a major, well-educated lawyer, but her somewhat dozy, ditzy personality overpowers her stunning looks to the point where she sees no future for them as a couple.

Disappointed but undeterred, the often-bubbly and positive Elle makes it her mission to join Warner at Harvard and, with plenty of study and a lot of help from her friends, she manages to sway the powers-that-be into enrolling her into Harvard, one of America’s biggest educational institutions. Once there, though, she discovers that not only is her “type” not welcome in an environment filled with stuck-up, posh students for whom it is always “work at the front, party at the back”, but she learns that Warner has now found a new flame in the form of Vivienne Kensington (Laura Harrison).

Again, though, Elle refuses to accept the cards that she has been dealt, and goes about looking to impress Warner by establishing herself as a student worthy of her spot, as well as a potential candidate for a major internship in the future. Along the way, she meets Emmett Forrest (David Barrett), a geeky guy who admits to having a chip on his shoulder, but who goes a long way towards transforming Elle into the smart, sophisticated and knowledgeable woman that she needs to be in order to succeed. She picks up moral victories in mock trials along the way, as well as having to overcome further embarrassment (being convinced to attend a party in fancy dress, despite everyone else appearing in dresses and suits) to boost her credentials.

She earns the right to continue into her second and her third year, defying the odds as well as baffling fellow students, not least Warner who starts to realise his mistake, but who tries to put a brave face on nevertheless. A major trial involving a murder case sees her obtain vital information to clear the name of the accused, but she is told only with the idea of keeping it secretive, meaning that she has to think hard and dig deep to find another way to prove her innocence, despite all and sundry telling her that they believe a guilty verdict is the only outcome. As Elle further demonstrates her skills, an unexpected twist throws her entire future in question, which sets up a big finale which ties up the legal case, Elle’s prospects within law, a growing romance with Emmett and how all of this impacts the relationship and the mind-sets of Warner and Vivienne.

Of course, this is a stage version of the popular movie, and while the running time is a bit long (the show comes close to three hours when you include the interval), it is a very entertaining and often-amusing tale of how the proverbial girl next door with good looks but little else going for her strives to improve herself in the face of adversity and ultimately manages to not only prove everybody wrong, but ends up succeeding beyond her wildest dreams. This is all told within musical form, and with comedy being the underlying theme, meaning that nothing is to be taken too seriously, whether it be the circumstances surrounding the murder trial, or the fact that one of the parties involved in the case couldn’t possibly have committed the crime of which he is accused of because he is proven to be gay and European (it will make sense when you see the show).

Lucie Jones is an excellent choice to play Elle, coming across as a bit stupid character-wise but in such a manner that endears her to the audience as opposed to offending. What’s more, her acting is strong when required, her dancing is very good, and her singing is outstanding. Elsewhere, David Barrett does a fine job as Emmett, starting off as a nerdy, annoying young man but proving himself to be a strong-willed, confident character by the finale. Rita Simons is entertaining as Paulette Bonafonte in a side plot, and the supporting cast all put on worthy performances. Elsewhere, the sets are very well-designed (the outline of the Harvard entrance surrounds the stage, and we get effective backdrops for study rooms, houses and hair salons), and the use of lighting is clever and adds to the mood of the production (at one point, the lights go down except for the skipping ropes used in a work-out scene, and the words “LEGALLY BLONDE” light up above the stage during the final bow).

It helps if you’ve seen the original movie, and again I felt that the show would have been better had it been trimmed down a notch. But overall, Legally Blonde is well worth watching, and the big scenes had the audience up on their feet applauding and cheering wildly. When you’ve got the crowd in the palm of your hands, you know that you’ve got a hit, and Legally Blonde certainly stands out as one of the better shows that you’ll see in 2018.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent