I have to admit, when I heard that there would be a revival of Legally Blonde the Musical, I wasn’t that fussed.
I hadn’t watched the film (I know) and didn’t really feel compelled to watch a film with a blonde lead. That was until I saw the poster with Courtney Bowman as Elle Woods with blonde braids and a hot pink dress. I gasped seeing the poster and so I dutifully played the part and wore pink to watch the show on the bank holiday weekend.
Made famous by the 2001 film of the same name with Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde the Musical follows Elle Woods on her journey applying to Harvard Law school in an attempt to impress and win over her college boyfriend, Warner played by Alistair Toovey.
The casting also means conversations about her not fitting in go past the superficial of her being blonde and assumed to be stupid. This is captured powerfully when Michael Ahomka-Lindsay performs ‘Chip on Your Shoulder’. As someone who went to a predominantly white institution, this resonated with me.
Jean Chan’s costuming did the job of conveying Elle’s difference to the Harvard cohort – she is bold and in your face in her pink numbers whilst they are all in beige reminiscent of outfits from the Hunger Games. It seems that there has been an effort for this production’s message about inclusivity to not just be at face value. The diversity onstage can also be seen backstage with Spring Awakening’s Tony Gayle as sound designer and Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong as dramaturg.
Staged in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, the venue had echoes of the ancient origins of theatre, but that was the only thing classic or traditional about this production. Under SIX the Musical’s Lucy Moss, the show receives a Gen-Z makeover and is populated with TikTok references, dances and costumes inspired by Rihanna’s Savage Fenty line.
Bowman, who I had the pleasure of watching performing in SIX as Anne Boleyn shines here and her comedic timing is second to none, notably captured in the number ‘Serious’. It is, however, her generosity as a lead performer that merits discussion here. In an interview, Bowman discusses her role in Legally as part of her “empowerment era” and this seems to extend outside of herself but also to her fellow cast members who she encourages by allowing moments for them to shine, and it was beautiful to see these interactions between her cast. It is also a testament to her star power that she is able to pull the gaze back to her.
Unlike musicals, such as The Color Purple and Dreamgirls which have their standout numbers, Legally Blonde does fall short here but there certainly wasn’t any shortage of standout performances. Kitted head to toe in orange, Nadine Higgin produces a flawless performance as Paulette. I still get shivers recalling her solo number ‘Ireland’ and watching how she captivated the whole audience. What an incredible career she has ahead of her! Ahomka-Lindsay was effortless in the role of Emmett and was so deliberately understated it allowed for Bowman’s Elle Woods to shine. The ensemble was also very strong with standouts like Billy Nevers and Vanessa Fisher’s Vivienne. Both actors were understudies for Elle and Emmett which made me wish that I could watch the show again to see them in these roles.
I adored this production so much and particularly what it was celebrating. The discussion on representation particularly in terms of seeing yourself represented onstage/onscreen can feel a bit tick boxy with shows capitalising on this desire as a marketing ploy. With Legally Blonde, however, this gesture felt sincere, and I haven’t felt that included within a musical world before. This was also reflected in the audience which was one of the most diverse musical theatre audiences I have been part of for ages. All in all, this revival of Legally Blonde the Musical was a triumph and I wait patiently for its West End transfer or the cast recording (preferably both!).
Legally Blonde The Musical runs @ Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre Until 2nd July