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REVIEW: Legally Blonde, Stratford Musical Theatre Company, Stratford Play House, 5th May

Review is in Herald edition of 12th May

‘OMIGOD You Guys!’ (said in a squeaky squeal with plenty of American twang) is the appropriate ear-worm that is left rattling round your brain after seeing this infections Stratford Musical Theatre Company production of Legally Blonde.

It’s not only the title of the opening song from this joyous musical, it is also perhaps what you might say to the cast for their incredible efforts in putting on this ambitious musical.

A largely young and always enthusiastic team have come together to tell this sometimes tender and often hilarious tale.

Vanessa Gravestock as Elle
Vanessa Gravestock as Elle

Most will know the Legally Blonde story from the 2001 Hollywood film starring Reese Witherspoon, and the musical still harnesses much of what made that such a blockbusting success.

It opens at a UCLA’s Delta Nu sorority house, with bubbly blonde president Elle Woods thinking she is about to be proposed to by her ‘gorge’ fella, Warner Huntington III (played by real-life dreamboat Casey McKernan with just the right amount of smarm). Alas instead he dumps her, saying he wants a more serious girlfriend and is off to Harvard Law School. Devastated, Elle schemes to win back her man by showing him she can be serious too, and promptly sets about getting into Harvard to study law as well.

SMTC (56448731)
SMTC (56448731)

It’s a great story, gleefully with some endearing characters, a heap of terrific songs and a great message about being true to yourself and not judging a book by its cover, with a hint of girl power feminism - phew!

Elle is played by Vanessa Gravestock, who has a beautiful voice, and she does a brilliant job of being the thoroughly believable and sympathetic focal point – a proper star. She is often ably assisted by her ‘Greek chorus’ of sorority girls, the Delta Nu, who steal the show whenever they are on. Shout out to Hannah Silvers, Bex Lou Walton and Molly-Rose Pughe playing Pilar, Margot and Serena.

Life on the East Coast turns out to be tough as Elle’s love of pink and airheadish attitude stands in her way of being taken seriously, but luckily she is ably assisted in her gradual transformation into a kick-ass lawyer by some great chums, including sensible working-class student Emmett Forrest (played superbly by Ian Meikle) and manicurist Paulette Buonufonte who Katie Merrygold imbues with proper heart and soul – greatly helped by the fact that she has a really standout voice and her number Ireland – where she fantasises about finding an Irish lad to love – is just gobsmackingly ace.

SMTC (56451935)
SMTC (56451935)

Once enrolled at Harvard, Elle’s classmates are revealed as a characterful lot, played with great aplomb by one and all. Emily Collins as Warner’s new girlfriend Vivienne Kensington delivered a really believable and engaging performance.

The villain of the story, the shark-like law professor Professor Callahan, is delivered with unashamed relish by Chris Dobson.

Elsewhere, Anya Brown impresses with her perky take on the wrongly accused murder suspect Brooke Wyndham, who Elle ends up defending and coming out tops. There are some great comic turns from Oliver Payne as Paulette’s delivery man love interest; and Luke Wilkinson and Joseph Frerichs as the camp Nikos and Carlos.

The biggest ‘aw’ moment of the whole shebang goes to pups Poppy and Peggotty who both put in dogged performances.

Who’s been left out? Obviously big kudos goes to director Gerogie Wood and music director James Suckling… and absolutely everyone that had a hand in this great show, you did Stratford proud.

There may be the odd sound issue and wonky wig, but this SMTC performance was so full of life and love, I’d rather be sat in the Play House watching this than a slicker, but perhaps less genuinely soulful, West End version.

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