Blondes, as the script says, are not all that blonde. Legally Blonde is at the Congress Theatre this week, breaking a few moulds – and having an absolute high-octane blast.
This is Rattonians’ 25th summer show at the Congress, and it’s a cracking choice. Their Spring production of The Addams Family was an artistic success without quite pulling in the punters, but Legally Blonde ticks nearly all the boxes: a familiar title, a frothy story, and ample scope for singing, acting and dancing talents.
It’s lovely to look at, with lavish costumes and convincing sets. It doesn’t shrink from the demands of a quite filmic story, with frequent and largely smooth scene changes. And above all, it sizzles with that unique Rattonians blend of thrilling energy and tight discipline.
The mood is contagious. A massive first-night audience was onside even before the start, many responding to the show’s tradition of wearing pink, and even Herald reviewers were not exempt.
As a stage musical, Legally Blonde has some flaws. It began life as an engaging movie, and some of the quick-fire dialogue translates uneasily into musical form. It lacks one or two big memorable melodies, and instead we get a kind of relentless story-telling set to music.
But that sounds carping. In practice, Carl Greenwood’s band delivers a lively score, with some breakneck tempi, and the cast on stage effortlessly catch the pace and mood, and fling it back to the audience with uncrushable bounce and energy. When the performers are visibly having so much fun, you cannot fail to be won over.
Expert choreographer Jan Lynton draws the very best from a huge ensemble, whose routines are tight, inventive and always joyous, and the girls look fabulous.
The clash of cultures – sunny California against dour and redbrick Harvard – comes over well. Indeed, it has a glorious irreverence at its heart: law professors engulfed by the cheerleader squad, and stuffy courtrooms collapsing with mirth.
As the aspiring lawyer determined to prove that blondes are not dumb, Emily Davis delivers a well-judged balance of sassy and serious. She holds the stage and her voice has real power. Elle’s Greek Chorus trio of confidantes – Chloe Shearer, Meggie Dennis and Rachel Brett – are assertive, bright and funny.
Smashing character parts abound. James Bell’s professor is masterful and his dramatic Blood in the Water number is a breathtaking highlight. Zany bohemian Paula Pout delivers her usual stunning vocals, and Laurence Dengate again shows his high potential as a male lead. Damon Willer is the warm and sympathetic foil to ditzy Elle, and Sophie Constantinos is a sensational gym instructor-cum-murder-suspect (don’t ask).
Even the small parts have fun – parents Steve Clarke and Melanie Adams, in their garish matching golf trousers, and Ben Chaffin as a hilarious Adonis delivery driver. The axis of gay-straight humour is nicely conveyed by camp lovers Rhys Clarke and Jack Colbran and by Ashleigh Potter’s militant lesbian Enid.
Producers Melanie and Mark Adams have set the bar as high as ever. Community theatre this may be, but – in all but name – it’s professional to its fingertips. Alongside the superb 2015 programme of top Congress musicals, Legally Blonde sits justly and easily.
By Kevin Anderson