“You need to see me in a brand new domain”
A bit of a change over at Upstairs at the Gatehouse has seen their customary Christmas musical take on a more modern bent after recent successes with classics such as Guys and Dolls, Crazy For You and Singin’ in the Rain. Over the past years, many a West End musical has been cleverly refashioned for this intimate space in Highgate, where fringe premieres of The Drowsy Chaperone, Buddy, and Avenue Q have previously been seen, and it is to the latest of these that the in-house Ovation Theatres have turned with Legally Blonde the Musical.
Like protagonist Elle Woods herself, the show might easily be dismissed on superficial grounds but it is worth remembering that it managed over three years at the Savoy in the cutthroat world of the West End musical and also took home the Olivier for Best New Musical. A good deal of that was due to the winning charms of Sheridan Smith but there’s also no denying that Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s ebullient score and Heather Hach’s adroitly pitched book from Amanda Brown’s novel and the Reese Witherspoon-starring film taps into something irresistible.
Taking to her professional debut with a striking degree of confidence, recent London School of Musical Theatre graduate Abbie Chambers plants her own Prada-shaped footprint on the role of Elle to teach us the ultimate lesson in transferable skills and the dangers of underestimating the underdog (and not just Bruiser at that…) Harry Blumenau’s casting is strong throughout though – Lily De-La-Haye and Ross Barnes’ Emmett continue their strong work from Parade, Jodie Jacobs’ brassy Paulette brims with vocal surety and Chris Durtnal has his bom-chicka-wow-wow manner down pat.
John Plews’ production makes a strong suit out of the small-scale, Isobel Power Smith’s clever design choices and Anthony Whiteman’s choreography using the space wonderfully, though the breakneck pace is hard on a couple of the multi-role ensemble members having to execute the quickest of changes. Matt Abram’s musical direction occasionally muddies the sound balance but by and large. his band capture the exuberance of the bigger numbers like ‘Ohmigod You Guys’ and ‘What You Want’ as well as the stirring emotion of the title track in both its incarnations.
So if your Christmas crackers are lacking snaps this year, make your way to the Gatehouse for some festive, feminist, feel-good fun.