For a musical comedy show that name-checks Gloria Steinem and Thomas Hobbes, features a Greek chorus and lewd lines about the boning of skanks and the flaunting of packages, Legally Blonde might sound like an unholy alliance between Martin Crimp and Steven Berkoff with a few tunes by Tom Waits thrown in to cheer us up.
Actually, such a show I wouldn’t mind seeing. I didn’t much mind Legally Blonde either, but of course there’s something else about it: it’s very pink, it operates on the nudge-nudge assumption that all blondes are stupid or frivolous – the legal case is won in the end by a hair-care demonstration – and it’s highly, you could say exhaustingly, energetic.
Jerry Mitchell’s production, played out on a series of amazing primary-coloured, day-glo sets by David Rockwell that obliterate the supposed cultural distinctions between East coast and West in America, is a thing of mechanical wonder. But it’s not a patch on Hairspray.
It moves like the clappers, and features a knock-out performance by Sheridan Smith as Elle Woods, the jilted Californian blonde who qualifies for Harvard Law School in order to track down the man who thinks he’s going places. But it has no sense, really, of its own period.
And Heather Hach’s libretto follows the film far too faithfully. The narrative strands of Elle’s friend Paulette (well done by Jill Halfpenny) finding her dog, an ugly bull, and then her man, a dumb Irishman, and the defence in court of the fitness coach widow Brooke Wyndham (Aoife Mulholland), don’t work on stage in the same way, and seem arbitrarily lumped together.
Some serious tricks are missed, too: Smith’s entrance at the “fancy dress” as a bunny girl is neither funny nor sad enough, and the big “Bend and Snap” number is less of a musical highlight than it is in the film, without music. The music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin are serviceable but mediocre; the lyrics are better than the music.
The latter’s vapidity is badly exposed in the slow love song for Elle and her ambitious Warner, though it’s very well sung by Smith and Duncan James; just as well in the latter’s case, as he has little else to do except look smarmy, which he does perfectly.
Good guy Emmett Forrest is a much more rewarding role, as likeable Alex Gaumond proves, while Peter Davison does a crude outline of the law professor who hits on Elle as soon as he offers her a job. Smith is as cheeky and vibrant as she always is, but her wigs are a disaster. In the chorus, you can talent-spot her understudy Amy Lennox, who looks just right without the hair-pieces, and more the right age, really.