Swathed in pink and screaming with enthusiasm, Savoyards’ production of Legally Blonde bursts on to the stage at the Iona Performing Arts Complex with a myriad of great performances.
Stacie Hobbs absolutely shone in the tour de force role of Elle Woods. She gave us an Elle who was perhaps not initially as superficial and ditzy as the portrayals of Reese Witherspoon or Laura Bell Bundy, but her Elle certainly grew into a grounded successful woman. Hobbs’ singing was strong and consistent throughout her performance, and her dancing was on point.
As Elle’s love interest Emmett Forrest, Jesse Ainsworth gave a suitably understated acting performance. While his voice does possess a certain strength, there were moments of mispitching at the top of his range. Forrest and Hobbs worked well as law colleagues, but the romantic spark between the pair needs more heat.
Marcus du Toit’s Warner was confident and arrogant, with a swagger to match. du Toit’s first number of the night, “Serious”, showed a vocal security which did not falter throughout. His Warner was not all front – after Elle left the courtyard restaurant, his introspection the right mix of regret and awkwardness.
Natalie Ridoutt stole the show as Elle’s confidant, Paulette Bonafanté. From the second she stepped on stage and opened her mouth, Ridoutt embodied Paulette. Her accent never faltered, she sang with affected insecurity and real confidence as the role demanded, and her dancing in “Legally Blonde Remix” was of a standard that blended perfectly with the dance ensemble. Her performance of “Ireland” elicited a well-deserved and wonderful reaction from the audience, for it was delivered with both excellent comic timing and pathos.
Shane Webb’s Callahan was very authoritative. His vocal delivery had great command and was secure at all times. Webb’s line, “Splenda and skim” had menace, to be sure, but was well placed so as to ensure the darker humour of it. Enid Hoops was portrayed with great gusto by Georgina Purdie. She has great comic timing and vocal chops to die for. As Warner’s new girlfriend, Emma Hambleton played Vivienne Kensington with an air of snobbery and nastiness, which mellowed as she became a member of ‘Team Elle’. Hambleton’s singing was strong and assured, but she lacked belt in the top of the voice, a quality that is needed for Vivienne at the end of “Legally Blonde Remix”.
Sofie Christofis, Emily Ginnivan, and Bronte Devine, as Margot, Pilar, and Serena respectively, gave a collectively bubbly presence to the show. With the backing of the Greek chorus, the girls’ ensemble blended very well. Louise Drysdale’s Brooke Wyndham had great poise – after the skipping marathon in “Whipped Into Shape”, Drysdale showed great stamina and control when she resumed her solo vocal line.
Special mentions must go to Chloe Schmidt as Kate (clear and strong singing, coupled with well timed comic delivery), and Reindert Toia as the UPS Guy – never has the delivery of a package been anticipated with such hilarity.
The creative team (director Johanna Toia, music director Mark Beilby, and choreographer Jo Badenhorst) has worked well together to bring this production to fruition. Toia’s staging was clean, and serviced the script well. However, some moments did jar somewhat – Warner first appearing in the dying moments of ‘Omigod You Guys’, when such an ego-centric character should have an entrance all of his own; Emmet referring to a vanity that ‘started its life as a desk’ and it was nothing more than a wall mounted shelf; Callahan knowing the names and faces of his law class on the first day of school was out of place; positioning Warner’s chair in the restaurant so that it sat behind the front black leg meant that when he leant back, he was totally out of view – moments such as these were detracting and distracting.
Badenhort’s choreography was spirited and stylistically spot on. It was great to see moves tailored to suit the strengths of the ensemble as whole, and to then have the technical challenge raised for the core group of dancers. The Irish dancing section of ‘Legally Blonde Remix’ was one of the triumphs of the production.
Beilby’s has clearly worked hard with his singers to create secure harmonies and a solid sound. There were some missed vocal cues from principals on opening night, as well as some hesitancy in the orchestra at the beginning of a couple of numbers (appropriate tempo and cohesion of the orchestral ensemble taking a few bars to settle). It is hard to know whether these tentative moments were due to opening night nerves or the need for closer knowledge of the material, but it is hoped that they will be resolved for the remaining performances.
There were some sound issues on opening night – mics being brought up late, or not turned on at all (we altogether missed Enid’s ripping line of ‘Back the hell out of her way’); a good balance between cast and orchestra was sometimes lost to mics being turned up too high. A little more attention to these details will have future audiences able to better appreciate the dedication of cast and band.
Lighting lacked focus during certain scenes. For example, in the opening number of ‘Omigod You Guys’, the Delta Nus were not all in light, as there were dead patches that were not lit to match the rest of the scene (the girls standing on the walkway leading up to Elle’s bedroom were partly in shadow). These darker patches were evident throughout the show. Some misfired lighting cues, together with a follow spot not being shuttered before the dome was moved up and out of position, meant that the lighting seemed to distract from the production, rather than enhance it.
Set design by Jessica Ross was very functional and served the show well. The use of a set that could come apart into smaller sections allowed for quick scene changes. The mid-stage curtain of matte black and reflective black enabled onstage action to continue while scene changes took place (quietly, for the most part) behind it. The focus of Callahan’s office is his desk, and to add a picture of a shark of the front panel was an out of place inclusion. Certainly, the desk itself did have wicker paneling in the front, but it would have been more suitable to paint the wicker work a darker colour, or put in a solid false front (to be removed at a later date), as the shark photocopy was quite tacky.
Costuming by Kim Heslewood perfectly captured the feel of the show. Elle’s wardrobe is a particular focus, and her pieces were well thought out. It was lovely to see original outfits for her engagement dinner, and her return to pink when she faces off against Callahan in court. Heslewood must have had a great deal of fun assembling Paulette’s various looks, as they were always that little bit over the top. One costuming choice that missed the mark a little was Callahan’s suits. A lawyer of his status would likely be dressed by a bespoke Saville Row tailor. While it can be well appreciated that most community theatre companies do not have the budget for such an expense, steps can be taken to effect the illusion – pants adjusted the appropriate length of sitting on the shoe, a fitted suit jacket to give a more tailored look, etc.
Jacinta Prieditis ran a smooth show as stage manager, with scene changes occurring quickly and without incident. Her stage crew worked well, but sometimes with a little too much eagerness – we should not be able to see the shower set piece sitting in the wings before it is due to be rolled into place. While it may have been a directorial choice, seeing crew in full light moving set pieces during the court transition to the ‘Scene of the Crime’ was an unfortunate distraction. With so many cast members on stage at that time, it would have been better to have the adjustment of the position of the judge’s box worked into the cast’s choreography.
One key job of the stage manager is to oversee the OH&S requirements of a show. To ensure the safety of all personnel, the use of real glasses onstage is often avoided so that if a glass is dropped, it doesn’t smash. However on this occasion, the plastic champagne flutes that were used after the court success of ‘Gay or European’ was an overly cautious choice. The characters are not dancing, nor is the scene frenetic, so it would be far better to use glass champagne flutes, so as to avoid the hollow sound of plastic glasses being chinked together.
Savoyards staging of Legally Blonde is fun, energetic, and charming. The audience enjoyed many laugh out loud moments, and felt the ups and downs in the life of Elle Woods. There is much to like in this show – great singing and dancing, cute dogs, men in tight shorts, and a story that shows us who we can be if we set our minds to it – so pop on your pink pumps and get yourselves out to the Iona Performing Arts Complex.
Legally Blonde runs through until Saturday March 19th.