Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre review: A fizzy, fun musical night out reinvented for 2022

·3-min read
 (Pamela Raith)
(Pamela Raith)

This fizzy, fun, candyfloss-pink musical night out carries a message of tolerance and inclusion. It features a winning central turn from Courtney Bowman as Elle Woods, the mocked Malibu ditz who unveils a razor-sharp legal mind. There’s some killer choreography, plenty of laughs and lots of you-go-girl affirmation. The latest of this venue’s bold, scrappy musical reinventions is hugely enjoyable, though parts of it still land oddly.

The 2007 stage hit based on the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie has been dragged squealing into the present day by Lucy Moss, co-creator of Six the Musical. The ensemble is a smorgasbord of different shapes, genders and ethnicities. The casting of Bowman, who is of mixed heritage and describes herself as plus-sized, and who has a sweet singing voice and excellent comic timing, acknowledges that not only rich, skinny, white girls suffer discrimination. Well, quite.

Heather Hatch’s script, which features a gushing Greek Chorus of WASP-Y girls, and the zippy songs of Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin have been tweaked to include references to Instagram and the Kardashians. There are expressionistic, asymmetric or cutaway costumes: pink for the fun kids, olive drab and beige for the lawyers. Two of the ensemble double up as camp lapdogs who eventually get it on. I guess Elle would call that a pro-bono case.

Bowman has a sweet singing voice and excellent comic timing (Pamela Raith)
Bowman has a sweet singing voice and excellent comic timing (Pamela Raith)

Still, the story looks dated and formulaic now. Elle propels herself into Harvard to win back her ex. She overcomes patrician derision and a #MeToo moment by being herself, winning a court case through her knowledge of haircare, fashion, and the fact that any man who doesn’t fancy her must be not straight, or at least not bisexual. In the hilarious number Gay or European? the clothes, mannerisms and grooming regime of a pivotal courtroom witness are analysed to determine his sexuality or nationality. I’m slightly amazed the song has survived, apparently intact, from the 2010 London production, which starred Sheridan Smith.

Though reimagined and reinvented for contemporary sensibilities, the show sometimes falls foul of current events: jokes about the Supreme Court, and Ireland being “the land where dreams come true” clang like cracked bells. The mystique of the law in America has become steadily more tarnished since Amanda Brown wrote down her own experiences of bullying at Harvard on pink paper in 1993, kicking off the Legally Blonde phenomenon. But none of this is Moss’s fault and the exuberance of her production largely steamrollers over quibbles.

Nadine Higgin steals scenes as beautician Paulette (Pamela Raith)
Nadine Higgin steals scenes as beautician Paulette (Pamela Raith)

Bowman holds her own against scene-stealing turns from big-voiced Nadine Higgin as Elle’s beautician ally Paulette and the lithe Lauren Drew as her fitness guru client Brooke. Michael Ahomka-Lindsay is a nicely understated romantic foil, and one of many relative newcomers in the cast. Ellen Kane’s choreography is energetic and exciting, especially in the workout-inspired Whipped Into Shape. If you love the film, or if you simply go with an open mind and heart, you’ll have a whale of a time.

To July 2, openairtheatre.com

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