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Review Round-up: What's the Verdict on Legally?

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After attending one of the multiple press nights for the West End transfer of Legally Blonde, critics finally aired their views this morning on the show that promises “so much fun it shouldn't be legal”.

The musical comedy, which premiered on Broadway in April 2007, is based on the 2001 Hollywood film in which Reese Witherspoon played California sorority girl Elle Woods who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School in an attempt to win him back.

Sheridan Smith stars as Elle, with ex-Blue pop star Duncan James as Elle’s heartbreaker college sweetheart Warner and Alex Gaumond as her new love interest Emmett (See News, 21 Jul 2009). Peter Davison is Harvard professor Callahan and Jill Halfpenny is Paulette, the hairdresser who Elle befriends.

Legally Blonde marks the Broadway and West End directorial debut for Jerry Mitchell, a previous Whatsonstage.com Best Choreographer Award winner for Hairspray and The Full Monty.

The word 'ohmigod' was employed liberally as critics joined the “screaming fan girls” for a night of unashamed “frivolity”. Not all liked what they saw – more than one compared it unfavourably to Hairspray, while the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts required “a large squirt of interval vino” to get through. But others had a whale of a time, including the Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer, who “really tried to hate this show”, but found that resistance was futile. The star of the show was undoubtedly Sheridan Smith, who managed to avoid being upstaged by her chihuahua to deliver a performance as Elle that several critics felt superior to Reese Witherspoon's in the original film.

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (three stars) - “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 … But it has no sense, really, of its own period … The music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin are serviceable but mediocre; the lyrics are better than the music … 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.”
  • Paul Taylor in the Independent (four stars) - “'What I'd give to be one of those dogs!' I remarked to the young woman sitting next to me at this wonderful new musical version of Legally Blonde … Sensing that I, too, was a fan – and, boy, was my neighbour a fan (she was booked to see the show three times in advance of the official reviews) – she let out a squeal of what I took to be approval. Her delight in the proceedings was infectious … I had thought snootily that the stage show of Legally Blonde might put the 'ugh' in 'euuuugh!' But omigod was I like totally blown away. It may not be quite as good as Hairspray (it lacks that show's lovely, double-bluffing libertarian dimension), but it's ridiculously enjoyable from start to finish and camp peroxide-perfection in terms of its showbiz roots.”
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) - “OMIGOD! I tried, I really tried to hate this show, but resistance is futile … The stage show has its tongue in its cheek throughout, it knows it is ridiculous and infantile, and celebrates the fact with knowing wit … This is rom-com with a welcome touch of irony … Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell keeps it all light, fast, fun and frothy … The chief glory of the show is Sheridan Smith as Elle, blessed with vitality, warmth, great comic timing and sudden moments of touching vulnerability. She is infinitely more likeable than Reese Witherspoon in the film. There’s strong support, too, from Jill Halfpenny as the down-at-heart hairdresser Elle befriends; from Peter Davison, playing against type as a predatory shark of a lawyer; from Duncan James as the insufferably smug boyfriend; Alex Gaumond as the decent chap in unflattering corduroys who finally wins her heart and Chris Ellis-Stanton as a hilarious hunk of a UPS Delivery Man.”
  • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - “It is pink not just in the colour of many of the clothes and stage effects. It is pink to the core of its little, tiny soul … The plot is pap, the musical unmemorable, the dancing often hefty except for one routine with skipping ropes … Miss Smith’s singing voice is not strong but she brings a likeable cheekiness to the part. A crueller critic might wonder if she is glamorous enough for the role … After a large squirt of interval vino the frivolity is somehow easier to take. Easily the best song of the night is a humorous number about a courtroom witness being gay. Its cleverness is almost worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan … Elle, who finds happiness by bonding with her fellow girlies, warbles at the end: ‘I was living in ignorant bliss, till I knew I could be more than this.’ The same could be said of this whole show.”
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) - “ … for all its absurdity, I found this Broadway musical infinitely more enjoyable than the 2001 Hollywood movie on which it is based … Although the score by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin improves as it goes along, it begins with a screeching evocation of sorority life that made me think back wistfully to the seductive choric opening of a 60s show like Bye Bye BirdieSheridan Smith as Elle is also far more vivacious than Reese Witherspoon. Smith is perky, trim, and sings and dances excellently. But her true star quality lies in her sense of mischief … Blessed with the long upper lip of a natural comic, Smith sails buoyantly through the show with a radiant smile as if warning us not to take it too seriously … Mitchell's choreography also gives the show a lift and there is good support from Alex Gaumond as Elle's campus ally, Jill Halfpenny as the messed-up manicurist, and Chris Ellis-Stanton as the hilariously macho messenger boy.”
  • Benedict Nightingale in The Times (four stars) - “Omygod, as a jazzily dressed set of sorority sisters keep squealing at the start of the delightful, annoying, supremely wishful musical that’s just come frolicking into Blighty from Broadway … All along you can see where Jerry Mitchell’s production is going, but, really, who cares? Certainly not the young women near me. They greeted the performers, especially a chirpy but mischievous Smith, as best friends … Let’s overlook some forgettable tunes and welcome dance that embraces everything from skipping with ropes to spoof Riverdance. Let’s relish the support both of a fake-Greek chorus dressed as cheerleaders and of two cute, unnaturally obedient dogs. Let’s agree that Legally Blonde is, well, fun.”
  • - Theo Bosanquet & Kelly Ann Warden


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