It may be legal, but it chal­lenges blon­de­ness

Di­rec­tor and chore­og­ra­pher Jerry Mitchell tells James Car­ney that it’s taken a while for one show to gather mo­men­tum – and at­ten­tion.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STAGE -

WHEN it was an­nounced Legally Blonde: The Mu­si­cal was to open in the West End no one paid too much at­ten­tion.

It was easy to see why. While no one doubted the show would be pop­u­lar at the box of­fice, the tale of the soror­ity girl Elle Wood turned Har­vard legal ea­gle, which had won le­gions of fans thanks to the film star­ring Reese Wither­spoon, didn’t ap­pear to be one which would trou­ble the se­ri­ous crit­ics. How­ever, shortly af­ter it opened it be­came clear this was more than just an­other light­weight mu­si­cal. Last year when Legally Blonde: The Mu­si­cal and its star Sheri­dan Smith ran away with five Olivier awards, the show proved it could punch well above its weight.

The orig­i­nal West End cast has moved on – Faye Brookes tak­ing over from Smith in the lead role and Liz McClarnon step­ping into Jill Half­penny’s shoes as her beau­ti­cian friend Paulette for the tour – but the mu­si­cal is much as it was when Tony award-win­ning di­rec­tor and chore­og­ra­pher Jerry Mitchell first brought it to life.

“Elle Woods is a char­ac­ter ev­ery­one can cheer for – she’s an un­der­dog,” says Mitchell, who was also re­spon­si­ble for Hairspray! “I loved the film and I wanted to make the mu­si­cal be­cause of her char­ac­ter – a larger than life lady can make a great mu­si­cal.”

Both the film and mu­si­cal are based on a novel by Amanda Brown and all three fol­low the same neat arc. Elle de­cides to pur­sue a ca­reer in law to win back a boyfriend who dumped her to find some­one more se­ri­ous, but when she finds her­self de­fend­ing an ex­er­cise guru falsely ac­cused of mur­der her jour­ney of dis­cov­ery is com­plete and the exboyfriend is con­signed to his­tory. Pos­i­tive mes­sages aside, the mu­si­cal is also packed full of big num­bers.

“That’s the beauty of mu­si­cals,” says Mitchell. “The learn­ing el­e­ment can sneak up on you. To use a Mary Pop­pins line, ‘A spoon­ful of sugar helps the medicine go down’. Hairspray was all about in­te­gra­tion in the 1960s and Legally Blonde shows us that men who treat women well get the girl.”

The key of course was find­ing the right lead­ing ac­tress, one who could, like Smith, not only sing and dance, but could cap­ture the nu­ances of Elle.

“Most im­por­tantly of all Sheri­dan had vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Peo­ple might think, ‘What does Elle have to be sorry for, she’s rich and beau­ti­ful’, but she has just been dumped by some­one she loved, and Sheri­dan can play that vul­ner­a­bil­ity in com­edy. Faye has the same vul­ner­a­ble qual­ity. It is al­ways the first thing I look for in an ac­tress.” And any faith­ful re­cre­ation of Legally Blonde would not be com­plete with­out Elle’s trade­mark chi­huahua, Bruiser.

“There are three dogs who play the role in case one of them feels ill. I haven’t re­ally hung out with them in their dress­ing room, but they do some sur­pris­ing stuff in the show,” said Jerry. “There’s noth­ing like see­ing live per­for­mances. Mu­si­cals, plays, con­certs – noth­ing can com­pare to ac­tu­ally see­ing theatre,” said Jerry.

The an­i­mal el­e­ment of the cast wasn’t the only prob­lem Mitchell and his team had to over­come.

“There are scenes in the film where Elle speaks to her soror­ity sis­ters over the phone. That doesn’t work on stage so we turned them into a Greek cho­rus. Dur­ing one song I wanted them to rap­pel like storm troop­ers from the ceil­ing, but sadly we just couldn’t af­ford it.”

It’s still a big pro­duc­tion, but with the show out on the road, as Mitchell him­self says, “It’s just a case of, ‘The cir­cus comes to town’, we stay for a cou­ple of weeks and then we move on.”

Legally Blonde: The Mu­si­cal runs at the Grand Opera House York from next Tues­day un­til Au­gust 20.

STRIK­ING A POSE: Faye Brookes as Elle and Liz McClarnon as Paulette.

FROM SCREEN TO STAGE: Legally Blonde: The Mu­si­cal is on tour and at the Grand Opera House in York this month.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.