Continuing their 50th Anniversary season, CLOC presents Legally Blonde. The show is fun, pink, polished and highly entertaining.
James Rooney's directorial debut is a triumph. With the original Broadway production readily available to view, courtesy of the MTV broadcast, it was wonderful to see that Rooney has created a fresh realisation of the piece. His choreography has all of the spirit and perkiness of the original, but it very much carries his own stamp.
Rooney's work was supported by a fresh and impressive set design by Merida Backway. In her first solo design venture, Backway has created a set incorporating projected backdrops, flown pieces, and trucks which facilitated Rooney's direction, and aided the pace of the show. Elle Woods’ world was more than brought to life by Brad Alcock’s lighting design. His great use of colour complemented the set and always drew the audience’s eye to the focal point of the moment, so that any concurrent set change could occur unnoticed.
Completing the look of the show were the costume designs of Emily Smithies. Of particular note was Elle’s wardrobe as she transitioned from a fish out of water at Harvard to a becoming a new intern, and then finally becoming her true self. Smithies’ creations for the full company perfectly suited each character, from principals through to ensemble.
As the overture began, it was almost as though the orchestra was a pre-recorded track, such was the excellence of the sound coming from the pit. Andy McCalman is to be highly commended for his work as musical director. He led a very tight group of musicians, and his clear communication with both the orchestra and the cast guaranteed that the songs of the show were delivered confidence and precision. Marcello Lo Ricco’s fine work as sound designer ensured that McCalman’s efforts were not in vain, as every sung or spoken word from the stage was heard clearly throughout the performance.
The success of Legally Blonde largely lies with the right choice of actress playing Elle Woods. Barely had she reached the end of Elle’s first phrase in ‘Omigod You Guys’ and it was clear that Melanie Ott was going to give a delightful and solid performance in this pivotal role. She is a true triple threat – her dancing flows with ease, her vocals are strong and sure, and her dramatic choices were always true to the situation. Ott showed us every facet of what makes Elle Elle: perkiness, determination, grace under pressure, and a huge capacity to love. A highlight of the night was Ott’s rendition of the title number. In Elle’s lowest moment, Ott sang with a sob in her voice and showed such raw vulnerability that some of the audience was in tears. In a word, Ott’s Elle was magnificent.
Josh Gavin (as Emmett Forrest) and Matthew Clayton (as Warner Huntington III) were well cast in their respective roles. Gavin imbued Emmett with the right combination of ‘nerdiness’, charm, and kindheartedness to create a character with whom the audience really connected, and his heartbreak during ‘Legally Blonde’ was keenly felt. While there were some inconsistencies in his vocal delivery, Gavin’s voice was well suited to the role. Clayton dripped self-assurance as the far too cocky Warner, and he took the character to a place of such self-importance that it was most satisfying to see him reduced to being Professor Callahan’s coffee boy. His singing most certainly matched the character, with ‘Serious’ showing Clayton’s rich vocals. Both leading men each had a moment of a missed musical cue, which took the glow off otherwise solid performances, but it would be fair to assume that these instances were out of the ordinary rather than the norm.
Bringing an additional dose of heart and humour to the show was Sarah Watson as Paulette Buonofuonte. Watching Watson grow the character from someone uneasy in her own skin to become a woman owning every inch of what she was born with was a delight. ‘Ireland’ was a highlight of the first act, and Watson’s vocal talents were well-matched to the timbre needed for Paulette.
Upon arriving at Harvard, Elle’s meets some tough characters who, in the end, help her ‘Find Her Way’. The arrogant Professor Callahan was handled with great aplomb by Jon Sebastian. His performance of ‘Blood in the Water’ was smooth and domineering, qualities which were very much a part of both his sung and spoken delivery. Amelia Rope’s Vivienne Kensington was every inch the preppy, snobbish girl from the outset. Rope was certainly in her element as she belted the final bars of ‘Legally Blonde – remix’. Rounding out the Harvard team was Bianca Bruce as Enid Hoopes. Bruce’s precise comic timing was undoubtedly on display during the video watching scene in Callahan’s office, and her singing was clear throughout.
Elle’s sorority gal pals from UCLA, Serena, Margot and Pilar, were played respectively by Katie Bull, Nicole Kapinaris, and Kirra Sibel. This trio bounced off each other exceptionally well, and brought to the roles the right level perkiness and ditziness. It is only a small step to have these roles tip over into being annoying as opposed to cute, so it is a credit to the trio for attaining a good balance. When they led the Greek chorus, their singing and dancing skills were showcased, and it was clear they enjoyed every moment onstage.
There is no denying that the highest energy number of the show is ‘Whipped Into Shape’. It is an endurance test for the ensemble, and, most notably, for the individual playing Brooke Wyndham. Holly Loughran displayed amazing vocal control as she belted through the song, all the while not missing one beat of skipping. One particular moment which the audience enjoyed a great deal was Brooke saying goodbye to Callahan after she’d fired him – excellent comic instincts.
The company of Legally Blonde was exceptionally strong in their performances, displaying fine singing and dancing throughout. Special mention must go to the powerhouse singing of Laura Greenhalgh as Kate, and to Djon Alexander (Nikos) and Christopher Weldon (Carlos) who worked so brilliantly together to provide an uproariously funny finale to ‘Gay or European?’.
It would be remiss to not mention the scene stealing antics of Taco as Bruiser the chihuahua and Betty as Rufus the bulldog. These two canines gave great amusement to the audience, particularly when Rufus gave Paulette a big slobbery kiss.
CLOC’s Legally Blonde is a great night out at the theatre. No matter what your age, your feelings on the colour pink, or your ability to ‘Bend and Snap’, there is something for everyone in this marvellous production.
Go for the slick music.
Go for the fun dance moves.
Go to see a story with loads of heart.
But whatever you do, just go!
CLOC’s season of Legally Blonde runs through until October 18th, and tickets are available through www.cloc.org.au or by calling 1300 362 547.