OMIGOD! 20 of them. 20 different opinions including one who famously “doesn’t do musicals”. How could one show possibly please this disparate bunch?
OMIGOD! Over the last few months Phil had been bombarded with pink envelopes with that irritating expression embossed in silver upon them as the publicity for Legally Blonde went into hyperdrive. The envelopes each contained a CD featuring (presumably the best) four songs from the show. Phil played a CD once and only once and passed onto Andrew with the words OHDEAR!
As the Whingers and their crew started the long trek down the stairs into the beautiful Art Deco Savoy Theatre they spotted signs telling them that the performance was being recorded and that if they didn’t want their images filmed they should have a word with the management. Would the Whingers’ cover be finally blown? Would they have to adopt their signature poses for the entire evening? How could they possibly find and tell the management in time?
Well they probably could have as the packed house (capacity 1,158) took some seating. Despite urgent entreaties that the performance would start in one minute the curtain went up 10 minutes late. Even worse, programmes were an absurd £6.50* and the show features Phil’s theatrical pet hate park benches – yes two of them! – it was going to take an awful lot of theatrical magic to turn the evening round for the Whingers.
This Broadway import based on the popular 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon. For those who haven’t seen it (Is there anyone? Apparently, yes: the elderly gentleman and friend of the Whingers who happened to be sitting in the row behind them hadn’t even heard of it) LB tells the tale of the irrepressibly perky and popular college girl Elle Woods (Sheridan Smith) who gets dumped by her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Blue’s Duncan James whose entire fan base seemed to be in the house – they even dress like him) and follows him to Harvard Law School to try and win him back.
The Whingers expected to be underwhelmed, frankly. But do you know what? Who would have thought? It was an evening of utter delights. It’s the Priscilla/Hairspray effect all over again. Legally Blonde is a show that knows exactly what it’s doing and barely puts a foot wrong.
OK so let’s get the whinging out of the way before we start straining at the superlatives. The music (Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin, Music/Lyrics, Lyrics/Music respectively – yes what is the difference exactly? – we’re quoting the website here) didn’t make much of an impression - there isn’t really a take-home tune in the show, (unless you count the rather irritating “OMIGOD!” number that is recurs so often it’s practically chiselled into your brain). Anyway, on first hearing there seemed to be nothing approaching the hummability of anything in Hairspray.
For a musical you might think this is a problem, but the numbers are put over with such panache, energy, humour and an awful lot of camp choreography that it isn’t. Not only that but on the whole the songs advance the story so you never get the feeling that everything has ground to a halt while someone sings something. It’s all wonderfully integrated and sprinkled with enough witty lyrics to keep even the whingiest Whinger sat in rapt attention. And the whole thing simply hurtles along at a breathless pace.
And, yes, humour. This is musical comedy that doesn’t leave you checking the trade descriptions act. Not only is it funny but it’s funny throughout (book by Heather Hach), but never more so than in the second act courtroom number about which it would be churlish to reveal any more details. And it’s difficult. Because it’s a very, very funny song indeed. But you need to be surprised by it. Let’s just say it was playing to the crowd of this particular Monday night preview. The audience were howling and cheering.
There’s also some terrific choreography (by director Jerry Mitchell) including an audacious exercise video routine involving skipping ropes. How Aoife Mulholland sang and skipped is beyond us. We were worn out just watching it. There’s a brilliant subplot theme of Irishness (including a very sweet and funny song) which leads to an extraordinarily funny Riverdance moment and there is superb support from Alex Gaumond as Elle’s new love interest Emmet, Jill Halfpenny as Elle’s bending-and-snapping new best friend Paulette and some hysterical posing by hunky UPS man Kyle (Chris Ellis-Stanton). And for good measure there’s even a former Doctor Who in the form of Peter Davison as Elle’s law professor. Oh, what the hell, everyone was fantastic.
As were the dogs.
But the biggest relief of the evening was the star-making (if she isn’t already one) turn of Sheridan Smith who pretty much has to carry the whole shebang. According to the website’s statistics she has to sing 16 of the 18 numbers in the show and she makes it seem effortless. Overlay that with her comedy timing, her sheer likeability and her occasional deliberate gaucheness and you have a really impressive performance. And you actually care what happens to her because she’s so damn adorable - she could be the new Joe McElderry.
Judging by the thunderous reception and standing ovation when Sheridan Smith came on for her curtain call we weren’t alone in our enthusiasm. In the straw poll of our group (including the hard-to-please pensioner friend and the one who doesn’t like musicals) there wasn’t a dissenting voice. Everyone came out grinning from ear to ear. This could indeed be the new Hairspray. It may not have the edgier black/drag things going on but it matches it in charm and joie de vivre.
At a watering hole nearby after the show Phil was forced to prove that he could still bend and snap. Of course the bend was no problem but the snap was perhaps not the one intended. Who knew people still wore stays?
- * OMIGOD! Yes £6.50. Outrageous! it’s a souvenir brochure of sorts but only contains rehearsal pictures. Proper programmes won’t be available apparently until January when the show eventually opens to the press. Phil just couldn’t and wouldn’t buy one on principle. It’s something that needs stamping on and quickly. Andrew was so loved up with the whole show that he was seduced. Shame on him.
- As though buying theatre tickets weren’t complicated and time-consuming enough already, Legally Blonde introduces the West End’s first ever theatre lottery: “Every day a lucky few people will win the chance to buy up to 20 top tickets for just £10 during the previews of Legally Blonde. 2 hours before each performance you can collect a free lottery ticket at the Savoy box office. 30 minutes later tickets will be drawn entitling the holders (who have to be present) to buy up to 2 tickets for just £10 (usually £40-£55). So for the chance to win be at the Savoy box office for 5.30pm for 7.30pm performances, 12.30pm for 2.30pm Thursday and Saturday matinees and 1pm for Sunday matinees.” Just thought we’d tell you.
- Poor Sheridan Smith. She wasn’t fast enough to escape the dregs of the Whingers’ entourage when they were finally thrown out of the Coal Hole and into the street at 11.15pm. What a trouper.