Legally Blonde Is Just The Most Fun

Legally Blonde is a fabulous film, and Elle Woods is a modern heroine, but this does not always mean a great show when it comes to theatre versions (for instance, I hate Saturday Night Fever on the stage). But, fear not, fans of all things pink and surprisingly feminist, Legally Blonde the musical is just brilliant. Yes it is frothy and bubbly and totally, totally pink. But Elle is a real modern heroine, one who may have the face and look of a Barbie doll, but also has a brain, wit and determination to succeed. And succeed she does, without compromising just who she is. It is a great musical, thorough entertainment with a strident message at its heart.

Elle Woods is the golden girl, a sort of Malibu Barbie with a pink wardrobe to die for and a suitably ‘Ken’ boyfriend in Warner Huntington lll. Elle thinks he is going to propose to her when he takes her to a rather swish restaurant, but instead he breaks up with her, telling her that he is going to Harvard to study law, and that he needs a serious girlfriend ‘a Jackie not a Marilyn’. Devastated, Elle decides that she will also go to Harvard to win him back, and manages to get in thanks to a great average and an hilarious personal statement (think cheerleaders, cupids on skates etc). Elle gets to Harvard and is in the class of Professor Callahan with Warner in the same class. But Warner has found his ‘Jackie’ is the shape of Vivienne Kensington, who instantly dislikes the seemingly fluffy Elle and her lack of commitment to learning about law. Luckily Elle makes two friends, Emmett Forrest, and older student who helps her to get serious about her learning, and Paulette Bonafonte, a hairdresser who teaches Elle that beauty of staying true to her blonde roots. When Callahan takes on four students to help fight a murder case, Elle is one of them. But will she prove to be a ‘legally blonde’ and will she have to lose who she is in order to succeed?

Lucie Jones is fabulous – she is Elle Woods and her excellent soaring vocals help her to steal every scene. She plays Elle as idealistic and frankly adorable – one of the things I love about this character is that she actually is nice, inside and out, no edges.no malice and no bitchiness. Lucie conveys all this and more, and is a central character who simply shiines like a star.

Rita Simons, the brash Roxy Mitchell from Eastenders, is also fabulous as Paulette. Her comic timing is impeccable and she makes Paulette a sympathetic character who you are totally supporting, especially in the hilarious scenes with the UPS man Kyle (Ben Harlow – a hoot!). Rita has a gutsy singing voice and performs her numbers with aplomb, and as for the Riverdance (don’t ask), I’m still laughing.

Bill Ward is another standout as the smarmy Professor Callahan. His performance seems very timely in our current political and the Hollywood climate, and he makes Professor Callahan thoroughly unlikable and morally corrupt. He’s great.

The supporting cast is also sound with David Barrett as Emmet and Laura Harrison as Vivienne providing great support, and the Greek chorus of Elle’s friends are great fun too.

Legally Blonde is one of those experiences that leave you walking out of the theatre with a huge smile on your face and a warm glow. It is brilliant entertainment, perfect for a girl’s night out.

Legally Blonde

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Thurs 9th – Saturday 11th November

Click here for ticket details

 

Frothy and Fabulous – Hairspray arrives in Birmingham

Big, bold, bright and beautiful and that could just be describing the leading lady Tracey Turnblad, Hairspray arrived in suitably glittering style at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. The musical, which mixes the fun and frolics of the Corny Collins show, with the dark undercurrents of racial inequality in 1960s Baltimore, received a standing ovation from an ecstatic audience who had been thoroughly entertained. As the final song exclaims, you really can’t stop the beat. Last night, Birmingham couldn’t stop the beat!

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Tracey Turnblad is a big girl growing up in 1960s Baltimore, but that doesn’t stop her being confident, cool and full of ambitions. She wants to be the newest dancer on the Corny Collins show and wants to win the man of her dreams, teen hunk Link Larkin. Whilst spending time in detention (again) she forms a friendship with black teenager Seaweed and his friends, a group she had seen on the Corny Collins show during ‘Negro Day’. They teach her their style of dancing (the Peyton Place) and she soon catches the eye of both Corny Collins and her beloved Link, but buoyed by her loving and supportive parents Edna and Wilbur, and Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle, her dreams start to shift to something more serious and important, racial integration on the Corny Collins show. It is a serious message of ugly times, hidden in the froth and fun of the brightest musical around.

The whole ensemble cast is faultless, there is not a wrong move, with exceptional singing and dancing, comedic episodes and moments of real pathos. But there are still standouts even within the perfection. The brilliant Rebecca Mendoza, in her stage debut,  was born to play Tracey, she is a ball of energy and enthusiasm who literally lights up the stage – you are always waiting for her to return to the stage when she is not there.  Her partner in crime is the hilarious Annalise Liard-Bailey as Penny Pingleton, all sweetness and dipsy one liners.  Teen Dream support is also offered by Layton Williams and Edward Chitticks as Seaweed and Link, both showing great singing talent and skilled dance moves. Layton Williams in particular, is a polished and charismatic performer, another stand out in a cast at the top of its game.

As Edna and Wilbur, Matt Rixon and Norman Pace are wonderful, their sense of comedic timing only matched by the warmth and charm of their performances. Gina Murray hams up a storm as the manipulative Velma Von Tussle, having great fun in her villainous role, while Brenda Edwards (Motormouth Maybelle) manages to just about bring the house down with her emotional, passionate performance of ‘I know where I’ve been’. All in all, the perfect cast performing the perfect feel good musical.

With costumes to die for, infectious, retro sounding songs that you feel like you’ve heard before, and a live band on stage providing the icing on the cake, Hairspray is a fabulous treat you should definitely indulge in this Autumn.As those dark nights draw in, Hairspray brings a riot of sparkle and colour. Go see!

Hairspray

 

Tuesday 10th – Saturday 14th October, Birmingham Hippodrome.

Click here for ticket information

 

Billy Elliot – Just Brilliant!

Growing up in Durham during 1984/85, as the Miners strike was at its height was difficult for anyone. But for a motherless 12 year old boy who longs to be a ballet dancer, despite being pushed towards a boxing ring, life is damn near unbearable. Dad and brother are on strike, caught up in the terrible times they are living in, but not too caught up to not react with anger and horror when they discover the boy’s secret. This is the story of Billy Elliot, which left me open mouthed with awe at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. It is, quite frankly, the best musical I have ever seen – a masterpiece.

The scene is set right from the opening, as the Durham miners get the news they are on strike. It is immediately clear that this is no ordinary musical, it is hard hitting and real, with characters, including the children, who can swear like troupers and are volatile in their anger. Early dance sequences juxtapose the awkward innocence of the young ballet dancers, with the violent clashes between the miners and the police as the strike escalates and the violence and tensions increase. And yet this malevolent atmosphere is always tempered by real humour, whether it be Billy’s nan putting up two fingers to the world, Billy’s best friend Michael introducing him to cross dressing, or the brilliance of the scenes where Mrs Wilkinson tries in vain to get the mini ballerina’s to dance with grace, even as they grimace and gurn. She knows they will never trouble Dame Margot Fonteyn, but goes on, all the same, collecting those 50ps and barking instructions through a haze of cigarette smoke. It is a a majestic performance from Annette McLaughlin, more acerbic than Julie Walters in the film version, but still filled with heart.

It was fitting for the press night that Billy was played by an enormously talented local lad, Lewis Smallman from my home town of West Bromwich. He is perfection, his Billy is loveable and capable, in the scene where he reads the letter from his mom, of breaking your heart (my tears flowed freely). This is no saccharine performance, Billy is real, and is the soft heart of the story, which is why it is shocking when he responds to another child with violence. Lewis carries off all the dancing with aplomb and with his faultless accent, and tender scenes with Grandma ( a brilliant Andrea Miller) and best friend Michael, he shows he is a real find and star.

He is ably supported by a superb cast. Martin Walsh plays his dad, first as an oafish character, but he brings so much pathos to the role,  particularly when he tries to go back to work to get the bus fare for Billy to get to London. Scott Garnham also gains our sympathy as brother Tony, his future looks bleak and the audience can totally feel his pain. Another standout is Leo Atkin as the hilarious George, quick with one liners as he tries to push Billy and Michael into boxing, whilst Daniel Page delights as the larger than life Mr Braithwaite, surprisingly light on his feet in a Fame t-shirt.

As you would expect from a musical with songs from the pen of Elton John, the songs are exceptional, with highlights being Grandma’s bittersweet torch song ‘Grandma’s Song’ , the heartbreaking ‘The Letter’ and the Dante’s Inferno style staging of ‘Angry Dance’, complete with smoke and red skies. It is also a stunning moment when Billy dances with his older self in Swan Lake, a stunning turn from Luke Cinque-White.

Billy Elliot has been called the greatest British Musical of all. Who am I to disagree?

Billy Elliot

Thu 9 Mar – Sat 29 Apr

Click here for ticket information.