Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Review: Legally Blonde at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Legally Blonde
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Reviewed on Friday 18th December 2015

Fact: Legally Blonde is the ultimate feel good show. 

The Broadway musical was a huge hit when it transferred to the West End for a triumphant run between 2009 and 2012. After some time away from the UK, Legally Blonde is suddenly popping up all over the place; I saw a fantastic production at Kilworth House last summer and now Upstairs at the Gatehouse are hosting the show's London Fringe premiere.

Based on Amanda Brown's novel and the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde follows sorority girl Elle Woods as she does whatever it takes to get into Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend who dumped her in favour of a serious brunette (oh my god). 

Legally Blonde is a big show with epic musical numbers and lots of strong characters who pop up throughout - a fringe staging was never going to be easy. The logistics of John Plews' production are clever; when the show is produced on a larger scale many actors double up to play various roles, but here the small cast of twelve play up to six characters each (in the second act the stage manager is forced to join the cast to play Chutney in the courtroom scene as there isn't anyone else available).

A strong cast of diverse hardworking talent have been found, they all take to the stage bursting with energy and do a commendable job. Sometimes the quick changes and mad dashes between scenes are so manic that performers appear out of breath. It's a shame that some characters disappear from the show; usually Elle's sorority sisters Serena, Pilar and Margot are a big driving force behind the fast moving pace, but as the actresses playing the roles also double up as Brooke, Enid and the judge the trio have been cut from several scenes. The overall rhythm of the show feels a little slow meaning some of the comedy in Heather Hach's book is lost.

Robert Colvin excels as Warner whilst you can't help but be charmed by Ross Barnes' geeky portrayal of Emmett. A big stand out performance comes from Hugh Osborne who makes a fantastic Professor Callahan and is also very funny during his cameo as Elle's Dad. The hilarious Adam Crossley steals scenes in various roles alongside the talented Suzie Aries who reminded me of a young Annaleigh Ashford. 

Leading the cast is Abbie Chambers who plays Elle without any sign of tiredness; her vocals are punchy and she grows into the role as the piece progresses. Interestingly the big stand out moment was her duet with Barnes 'Take It Like a Man' which is when both characters finally felt very real and relatable. Sadly it seems dogs aren't willing to work for fringe pay as their scenes are mostly cut  whilst a puppet is used during the opening number.

The star of the show is the phenomenal Jodie Jacobs who is in a league of her own as hairdresser Paulette. Reprising her performance from the Kilworth House production, Jacobs proves herself as an absolute comical genius - every detail of her performance is beyond faultless, she plays the role as if every line was written for her. 

It's so rare to see an actor walk onstage in a supporting role and completely change the standard of the show you're watching; not only does Jacobs master the comedy but she also performs with such heart. Jacobs' vocals are stunning with her final big note in 'Ireland' almost blowing the roof off the theatre. Without doubt Jacobs gives one of my top performances of 2015 - we need her talent back on a West End stage ASAP. She is phenomenal.

Overall Anthony Whiteman's choreography utilises the space well, although 'Whipped Into Shape' felt very squashed and the skipping isn't quite polished. It's nice to see a five piece band performing in a fringe venue, but frustratingly at times the sound levels distracted from my enjoyment of the piece. Everything was a little too loud, particularly the drums which drowned out several songs which is a shame as the lyrics are so witty but couldn't always be heard.

Legally Blonde is a cleverly constructed piece of theatre; the influences behind Nell Benjamin and Laurence O'Keef's unforgettable score are so varied; as an audience member you are kept on your toes and will probably find yourself singing 'Omigod You Guys' weeks later at a really inappropriate moment in your day.

I am thrilled Legally Blonde has finally found its way back to a London stage. Marking Ovation's nineteenth Christmas production, Legally Blonde is a truly terrific show which has so much more to it than first meets the eye. Regardless of whether you're a fan of the show or have never seen it before, this production is certainly worth seeing!

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Legally Blonde runs at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 31st January 2016.
Please visit www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Darren Bell

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