The Open Air Theatre has attempted to rejuvenate and retouch the 2001 blockbuster while keeping its pinky, glitzy, easy-going appeal at its fore. The musical elements are executed with great gusto and poise, with Courtney Bowman, playing Elle Woods, and leading the front. The choreography is similarly smashing, aided with an aesthetically pleasing set (as always at the Open Air). Occasionally though, despite the evident popularity that the story still holds, one may consider that the narrative contains some intrinsic parts that no retouching could really fix.
Lucy Moss has reworked the 2007 musical based on the 2001 movie sensation. The show is full of updated Gen Z concerns. The cast is diverse: none more apparent than Bowman, an Afro-European woman who is plus-sized, playing the part of Elle Woods, an originally WASPY, white blonde in the form of Reese Wetherspoon. On vogue preoccupations, such as the Kardashians, also find their way into the script.
Yet the storyline stays very close to the original. Elle pursues her former boyfriend, played by Alistair Toovey, to Harvard Law. Despite her superficial incongruity, with her blinding pink jarring with her beige surroundings, Elle battles against patriarchy and pre-judgments to come away winning the all-important case and valedictorian of her class.
But at times the plot mismatches with the predominant message of inclusivity and diversity of this Open Air remake. The song “is he gay or European?” (based on how Elle deduces that her client did not kill her husband as the accusing pool-boy, claiming to be her client’s lover, is not attracted to Elle and therefore must be gay) awkwardly undercuts Moss’ project of breaking stereotypes. It appears that there might be too little room for manoeuvre in a plot intentionally clichéd.
Rather, the show really shone when it embraced its cliché. A dazzlingly strong performance by Nadine Higgin, playing Paulette the hairdresser, could easily belong in a panto, and the audience lapped it up. The sorority chorus is similarly simplified and boisterous, making for much comedic material about American culture. The chorus of Oh My God You Guys will be hard to get out of my head for weeks.
Ellen Kane’s choreography, with large dance sequences using all the cast, aids the movement and hyper-activity of the musical. The stage is cleverly managed, with bathrooms, courtrooms, and classrooms interchanging neatly.
Overall, Moss’ Legally Blonde is great fun. Although the underlying message may fall a little cumbersomely, the musical’s sheer showbiz and glitz are sure to make a thunderous evening.
- Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe & Nell Benjamin
- Director: Lucy Moss
- Photo credit: Pamela Raith
- Cast includes: Courtney Bowman as Elle Woods & Nadine Higgin as Paulette
- Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
- Until 2nd July 2022
- Running Time: 2hrs 20 mins