PERFORMANCE RUN: Tuesday 10 - Saturday 14 March 2015

PERFORMANCE REVIEWED: Wednesday 11 March 2015

Being not only the first stage show I ever reviewed professionally, but also the only one I have done so in the trifecta of West End, touring and now amateur, Legally Blonde: The Musical holds a special place in my affections; my own sorority sister of musical theatre productions. From Sheridan Smith to Jennifer Ellison to Gareth Gates, and from the boards of London to the Midlands, I’ve seen it in just about every shape, form and incarnation possible. And what a joy to be able to laud Wolverhampton-based MUSCOM’s production, which also boasts being the UK amateur premiere, as just as infectious, feel-good and entertaining a romp as its professional predecessors.

Legally is a show which lives or dies by its energy and impetus - an almost hyperactive, postmodern whippet of a tale which rarely pauses for breath and keeps the music - and comedy - coming thick and fast. The characters, particularly the central females, require double, triple and quadruple threats - comediennes who can belt a tune, cut a move and even in some instances get impressively handy with a skipping rope. Thankfully, and duly impressively for a local company, MUSCOM have these in apparent plenty - the core cast assembled for Legally Blonde getting full mileage out of Heather Hach’s hilarious book and in places offering genuine West End glimpses of showmanship.

Based on the 2001 comedy of the same name, which was itself not a musical but launched Reese Witherspoon firmly into the celebrity stratosphere, Legally centres around the plights of the delightful Elle Woods (Katie Astbury) - a sassy yet sweet-natured sorority girl who decides to pursue a career in law, chasing her newly ex-boyfriend Warner (Tye Harris) to none other than Harvard Law School in the hopes of winning him back. At face value, so far, so kitsch. However, where the show really succeeds is in how it not only subverts initial expectations of character and plot, but makes that very U-turn it’s entire raison d'être. The idea of not judging a book by it’s cover is not only directly quoted (and deliciously back-handed), but becomes in many ways the primary ethos and message of the show. 

Yes, Legally celebrates Elle’s innate ‘blondeness’ - her pep is both genuine and endearing, she demonstrates real empathy for both friends and clients, and there is a very welcome and unconventional championing of the virtues of image, sorority sisterhood and even fashion, which eventually dovetail into a passion for law, that in more predictable hands would be lampooned or caricatured. Yes, there are a whole Louis Vuitton full of conveniences and contrivances laid at Elle’s arc and success throughout the show, and the whole thing is decidedly tongue-in-cheek in execution, but it is as refreshing as ever seeing such a savvy, untypical approach to the mould of character and subject matter at hand.

As such, it is a deceptively difficult show to get right - play it too broad and the irony and self-awareness gets mired in the camp, but tone it down too much or not get that A-game cast and the genuine funny and spark which carry the show will be lost. Again, ‘mad props’ to MUSCOM, and in particular the cast and Denise Robinson’s upbeat direction and vibrant choreography, for hitting that sweet spot so consistently throughout. Truly - there are a number of sequences, particularly moments such as the aforementioned skipping rope jaunt, and an extended series of courtroom scenes towards the end of Act II, where the lines between professional and ‘amateur’ are blurred so completely that they become practically non-existent.

Amongst the cast, Katie Astbury is unsurprisingly its MVP as Elle - every bit the leading lady, she tears her way through the show with a great voice, faultless timing and a beautifully pitched take on the character that is by parts energised and funny in addition to offering nuance, depth and tenderness in the quieter moments. A bright future for the gifted Astbury surely awaits. Her leading men, meanwhile, equally impress - Liam Sargeant is suitably goofy and endearing as the likeable Emmett, Elle’s only initial supporter and confidante at Harvard, with Sargeant getting chance to showcase rich, powerful vocals. Tye Harris, meanwhile, is charming and cocksure as her former beau Warner, exuding confidence and presence on the stage whilst also offering the show’s most convincing accent work outside of Astbury. Harris should be particularly praised for making the most of a slightly underwritten role which is somewhat back-seated after serving as the initial catalyst for Elle’s law school adventures. 

Other supporting cast of note include the superb and scene-stealing Harry Golightly, who is regularly hilarious and superbly idiosyncratic, proving to be perhaps the most naturalistic and gifted comedienne of the company (though Astbury gives her a run for her money) as well-meaning, unlucky-in-love, Ireland-obsessed hairdresser Paulette. Emma Marsh stands out amongst the genuinely funny sorority sisterhood (re-imagined as a spiritual greek chorus, naturally) as hyper-charged Margot, whilst the two Adam’s, Starr and Partridge, got the audience in hysterics with their brief but memorable appearances (though both are ensemble throughout), serving up a delight of campy court-room hijinks towards the end of the show. Are they gay, or European? And finally, I'd be remiss to not throw a bone to the adorable Stanley Gautier and Fiona aka Rufus and Bruiser - Paulette’s Bulldog and Elle’s Chihuahua respectively.

In all, it may seem a trifle old hat or de rigour to praise an amateur production for reaching such impressive standards, and it’s true that I have already applauded MUSCOM in the past for the level of their musical theatre attainment. However, even by their own standards, Legally Blonde is a notable step up. This is a show which fizzles with infectious energy and remains one of the most irrepressible, feel good musicals out there, and I haven’t even begun to mention it’s terrific, upbeat soundtrack, which again the company do great justice. And, in some way, it’s a very fitting synergy for MUSCOM to be handling a show which champions defying expectations, achieving one’s dreams whilst staying true to yourself and not judging a book by its cover. Take a leaf out of Elle’s (diamonte-encrusted, scented, shocking pink) book, and leave any misconceptions or predilections regarding amateur theatre and local productions at the door - with Legally Blonde, MUSCOM have raised the bar, and the roof right along with it.


LEGALLY BLONDE: THE MUSICAL is running at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Tuesday 10 to Saturday 14 March 2015.

CLICK HERE for more information on the show's run at the Grand and to book your own tickets!

Alternatively, telephone the theatre's Box Office direct on 01902 429212.


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Press tickets for this performance of LEGALLY BLONDE: THE MUSICAL were provided courtesy of the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre directly. The author gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.