Review: Legally Blonde, Open Air Theatre

Lucy Moss refreshes and reinvigorates Legally Blonde the musical in iconic style at the Open Air Theatre

“If you’re wrong, we look desperate AND homophobic”

The Open Air Theatre isn’t a venue one necessarily associates with taking risks, so getting SIX co-creator Lucy Moss to direct a wonderfully diverse and queered-up revival of Legally Blonde feels like an excitingly big swing. Quite how it will go down with the picnic blanket crowd in Regent’s Park I don’t know but attracting a new audience there surely has to be a good thing.

Following its Sheridan Smith-starring West End run, the show has been a popular one, appearing on the London fringe, in Leicester and UK tours aplenty. But what Moss and dramaturg Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong have smartly done is to refine what the musical might mean in 2022, to a society for whom inclusion and diversity are meaningful concept that affect them on the daily as opposed to right-wing talking points to mock and score points.

So fashion major turned Harvard law student Elle is played by a brilliant Courtney Bowman and that refocusing of the main lens away from conventional Hollywood notions of beauty filters down through the whole show. Gender, race, body shape, sexuality, it’s all broken down here and anyone is welcome to the party, it is just a wonderful spirit that infuses the production, written by Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin and Heather Hach.

Bowman’s warmth leads from the top and she connects with the audience from the off, letting us know that she’s all over this from the opening non-proposal to its final valedictory successes. And she’s supported by standout work from Nadine Higgin as the iconic Paulette, Michael Ahomka-Lindsay’s Emmett is cannily reconceived as his own kind of outsider and a perfect match to this Elle, and Vanessa Fisher continues to impress me with every thing she does. 

Ellen Kane’s choreography is energetic and energising, never better than in the tireless skipping routine of ‘Whipped in Shape’ which Lauren Drew leads with astounding skill. Jean Chan’s costumes are cracking in their tribal demarcations. The only kinda bum note comes with Laura Hopkins’ set design which seems to aim for so-ugly-it’s-good territory but doesn’t reach the target.

I could go on. There’s LGBT+ couples in background scenes, light textual updates raise a smile, Alistair Toovey is smoking hot as Warner, ‘What You Want’ remains a masterclass in whipping through plot in song, the dogs! Rationally, I know this might not be for everybody but honestly, not liking this would be like putting a half loop stitch on china silk.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Pamela Raith
Legally Blonde is booking at the Open Air Theatre until 2nd July

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