As cliché as it is to compare a musical to fairy floss, it rarely seems as fitting as it is in the case of Legally Blonde, the musical adaptation of the novel and Reese Witherspoon rom-com of the same name. It’s sugar-sweet, light, fun, comfortably predictable and doesn’t require much effort on your part.
And it’s unashamedly, unnaturally pink. The colour, with all its girly connotations, was well suited to perpetually smiling actress Lucy Durack in her role as Glinda in the musical Wicked. But Durack didn’t take out the lead role in Legally Blonde the Musical purely for her ability to pull off that particular luminous hue. As Elle Woods, she offers the full musical theatre package: she is funny, sharp and endlessly delightful to watch. As well as that, she hits every note, step and punchline while giving the appearance of breezing through comfortably. Glinda was Good, but Durack’s beaming Elle is the star-making performance she was so ready to deliver.
As anyone who has seen the 2001 film will know, the blondness is a bluff.Legally Blonde gleefully subverts our initial impression of Elle as a ditz-with-a-credit-card, with much the same relish that Elle herself one-ups the clothes store assistant who tries to get one over her. Though she begins as pink putty in the hands of her ambitious ex-boyfriend Warner (Rob Mills) – she enrols at Harvard in the hopes of winning him back – by the end of the show, Elle has essentially assumed control of her own destiny. Which includes dressing exactly how she likes.
In precisely the same way, as a musical, Legally Blonde is smarter than first impressions might suggest, though composers-lyricists duo Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe have more to offer in the way of sparkling lines than memorable tunes. Show opener ‘Omigod You Guys’ – the title lyric is intentionally repeated ad nauseam – pokes fun at its characters just as ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ did so well in Hairspray. There’s similar delicious irony in Warner’s R’n’B-flavoured break-up serenade ‘Serious’, in which Durack’s obliviousness is the perfect counterpoint to Mills’s Idolearnestness. The other obvious highlight of Blonde is ‘There! Right There!’, which sees an entire courtroom weigh in on the defendant’s possible gayness. Simple conceit, complex operation – and the ensemble, under director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, pull it off like clockwork.
The show also offers a decent amount of stage time to its supporting characters. We get to enjoy Cameron Daddo’s hands-in-pockets nonchalance as Professor Callahan; Ali Calder playing Warner’s snooty new squeeze Vivienne Kensington with power-suited bitchiness; and Elle’s sorority sisters (played by Renee Burleigh, Chloe Zuel and Ashlea Pyke in shockingly short short shorts) as Elle’s clueless Greek chorus. The laughs are slightly cheaper and easier in the scenes featuring hairdresser Paulette (Helen Dallimore) and her romance with UPS guy Kyle (Mike Snell), but if you've made it this far with Elle, you're not likely to mind the porno soundtrack or Riverdance parody gags. In any case, all is forgiven once there are adorable dogs on stage.
Where the fairy floss analogy breaks down is that, however confectionary and feel-good the final product, Legally Blonde so clearly draws on a huge pool of talent and expertise. It’s proof that, in musical theatre, good things can come in big, shiny, sparkly, pink packages.
This review was first published in Time Out Sydney