Venue: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Production Run: Tues 7 - Sat 11 November 2017

Performance Reviewed: Thur 9 November (Press Night)

Midway through the first act of Legally Blonde, rough-edged yet irrepressible hairdresser Paulette, played this time round by Eastenders alumni Rita Simons in a show-stealing turn, laments protagonist Elle Woods’ (Lucie Jones) wish to go from platinum blonde to ‘serious’ brunette in an attempt to win back ex-boyfriend Warner (Liam Doyle).

“Honey, you’re a genetic lotto win!”

Legally Blonde as a show is much the same; it’s got good genes.

A cracking, infectious and upbeat score by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, a suitably barmy yet witty and spirited book by Heather Hach that is littered with fun, memorable and almost immediately likeable characters, all wrapped up in a light and fluffy feel-good fable of staying true to yourself. Add in some high kicks, questionable legal practices and even a real live dog or two, and what could go wrong?

Thankfully, the strong foundations of the good ship Blonde steers this latest production through to a satisfying finish, though much like Elle’s journey herself, it’s something of a bumpy ride to get there. Telling the story of peppy sorority queen Elle Woods (as mentioned, The X Factor and Eurovision’s Lucie Jones) who sets her sights on getting into Harvard Law School in the hopes of chasing what she believes to be true love, the show follows roughly the same tale as the hit 2001 Reese Witherspoon film. 

Naturally, it’s all bigger, louder, not to mention pinker, for the stage, though it’s here where the earlier sections of this latest production particularly seem to stumble. The book and music clearly posit this as a more heightened version of the story, though for a good chunk of the first Act there seemed to be a real lag in the energy and spunk many have come to expect from the show. Some of the blame for this, sadly, has to be lain at the door of leading lady Lucie Jones who, whilst vocally she is terrific throughout, took some time to hit her stride with a slightly more reserved and sarcastic take on the usually overly chipper Ms. Woods (comma Elle). By the time Elle is really making her presence known at Harvard by the end of Act I, she’d got the audience on side and was notably more comfortable dealing out the funny, but Blonde is a show which really needs its Elle at full ‘Delta Nu’ from the off.

It’s difficult to gauge whether it was a case of the actress holding back for the meatier parts of the show, though, as by Act II Jones was hitting all of the character’s highs, lows and laughs perfectly and giving a delight of a performance.

Thank God this Elle has her best friend Paulette, though, the aforementioned down-on-her-luck salon owner. She’s the best part in the show, and Simons is quite wonderful in the role, showcasing characterisation and comedic chops that 'Enders scarcely afforded her. If Jones eases into the role gradually over the course of the show, Simons nails it from the off - though, admittedly, it’s a good 40 minutes into things before the character even shows up.

The rest of the cast and company are a spirited, enjoyable troupe. Liam Doyle is suitably cocksure and suave as the object of Elle’s affections (and career!) whilst Laura Harrison is deliciously barbed and snide as her nemesis-in-chief Vivienne (keep an ear out for some stellar vocals during an Act II favourite). Helen Petrovna dances and whips up a storm as a fitness queen-cum-DVD celebrity accused of murder, David Barrett is a warm, likeable presence as kindly Emmett, whilst Rebecca Stenhouse, Rachel Grundy and Delycia Belgrave hoover up scenes with hilarious sass and relish as best friends Margot, Serena and Pilar. The only principle who really misfires is Coronation Street and Emmerdale’s Bill Ward, whose shouty, animated-with-an-extra-slice-of-ham take on the sleazy Professor Callahan was a little overcooked.

Much like Jones herself, the technical elements of the show seemed to bounce between being competent and great. Ardent Blonde enthusiasts will note that many of the more high-octane and up-tempo numbers have been slowed down, meaning that, again, in places the energy and vitality lags somewhat. Anthony Williams and Dean Street’s choreography is in places inspired - see, for instance, a now fully-choreographed take on “There! Right There!” which is a treat, whereas in other places, such a slightly sedate “Omigod You Guys” (not helped by the aforementioned slowdown), there seemed to be little invention or life to the movement on stage. At one point during “What You Want”, one of the show’s bigger dance sequences, Jones and a couple of her Delta Nu dance team were wandering around on the stage to such an extent that it wasn’t clear whether or not something had gone wrong.

Visually, it's all suitably colourful and kitschy. Some of Harris, Bishop and Shields’ set design is a little basic, whereas again, elsewhere, it looks great; see for instance, most of the Harvard sequences and Act I finale, ‘So Much Better’, which goes fully Mama-Rose-in-Gypsy come its finale. Anthony Williams direction is mostly slick and punchy, though it’s a shame that some of the book’s funnier and quieter beats occasionally get lost in performance. Extra credit must be given for the brand new megamix that's been added on to the curtain call, though, making sure the show’s natural high carries on for just that bit longer.

When Elle Woods is (understandably) questioned by the Harvard admissions board on why she should be admitted without really having all of the credentials and necessary essays etc, she simply replies: “How about love? Have you ever been in love? Cause if you have, you’ll know that love never accepts a defeat.”

This latest touring production is, once again, much like this. There’s clearly a lot of passion, talent and, yes, love for the show being poured out on stage. Much like Elle up against those Harvard admins, this production may not tick all the boxes, it may not be the most qualified or polished touring production you’ll see, or heck, even the best production of this particular show that’s been put out there, but it absolutely has the passion, the fun factor and its heart in the right place.

And, much like Elle, a lot of its real worth goes beyond the surface, down to the very winning writing and music at the heart of Legally Blonde that makes it, even in this slightly inconsistent form, still one of the most easily enjoyable and shamelessly fun nights out at the theatre you can have.

RATING - ★★★

Tickets: 01902 429 212  / Official Website: click