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Review: Legally Blonde (Regent's Park Open Air Theatre)

OmiGod you guys - Regent's Park Open Air Theatre is celebrating its 90th anniversary and what better way to celebrate than with a revival of a joy filled revival of Legally Blonde. Based on the 2001 novel by Amanda Brown and the iconic movie starring Reese Witherspoon, the musical adaptation first premiered in 2007, debuting in the West End in 2009. While it has since enjoyed two UK tours, this latest production marks the first time Legally Blonde has been seen in London for a decade.

Telling the story of Elle Woods who enrols at Harvard Law School (What? Like it's hard?) to win back her ex-boyfriend Warner. Add in a high profile murder trial and what we are left with is a highly satisfying and uplifting tale of character growth. For this latest version, the rulebook has been well and truly ripped up. This new production, directed by Lucy Moss, features updated references, a more modern setting (they graduate in 2025) and all new staging. The classic elements are all there though - it's all just a bit refreshed.

The strongest element of this production are the phenomenal cast that have been assembled. A testament to what good casting should be – Legally Blonde leads the way with an inclusive and diverse group. Their leader is the always wonderful Courtney Bowman, who is as iconic as the character she plays. Her portrayal of Elle Woods is simply sensational, showcasing her immense talents with a performance that is both comic and captivating, full of heart and hilarity - and that's not even mentioning the incredible singing voice she is blessed with.

Nadine Higgin is an absolute standout as Paulette, commanding the stage with huge presence and delivering some of the highlights of the evening in ‘Bend and Snap’ and the total showstopper that is ‘Ireland’. Delivering the comic centrepiece of the evening, Nadine is a force to be reckoned with, ensuring all eyes are on her whenever she is on stage.

You may have to wait until the second act to meet Lauren Drew’s Brooke but she more than makes up for lost time with a gobsmacking performance of ‘Whipped Into Shape’ – complex choreography involving skipping ropes all while demonstrating flawless vocals and never missing a beat, it defied the laws of what should be humanly possible in a performance and was truly outstanding to watch.

Michael Ahomka-Lindsay is a delight as Emmett while Alistair Toovey portrays Elles ex boyfriend, Warner with such skill, you really do love to hate him. Vanessa Fisher gives a star turn as Vivienne while Isaac Hesketh, Hannah Yun Chamberlain and Grace Mouat are fabulous as Margot, Serena and Pilar. An incredible ensemble ensures every inch of that stage bursts with talent – highlights including Billy Nevers in a brief but memorable moment brilliantly portraying Paulettes ex, and Lucca Chadwick-Patel as Nikos during the trial.

With music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe, Legally Blonde boasts a contemporary sounding score with upbeat numbers such as ‘OmiGod you guys’ and the rousing ‘So Much Better’ providing undoubted highlights. ‘There! Right There!’ (aka ‘Gay or European’) is a hilarious sequence while the title number ‘Legally Blonde’ provides a refreshing change in pace, allowing Courtney to take a break from dancing and show off her gorgeous vocals. These performances reach a new level of brilliance thanks to the genius choreography from Ellen Kane.

The set design by Laura Hopkins is odd, to say the least. While the main stage in all its pink splendour is pretty fabulous in itself with some hidden quirks providing satisfying reveals throughout the show, it is accompanied by a jarring looking curtain – supposedly meant to resemble Elles hair, the effect isn’t quite pulled off. Instead, it distracts and takes away from what would otherwise be a fairly pleasant set. Moments in Act 2 when the lighting hits it right, you get the idea what they were trying to achieve with it but sadly it feels like a real misfire. Speaking of that lighting though, while you only see its full effect during the second act due to daylight being a factor in Open Air Theatre, its design from Philip Gladwell illuminates the stage beautifully, including an inspired rainbow light in a pivotal moment.

Legally Blonde purists may not be thrilled by some of the changes. Elles dog Bruiser being played for laughs by a human is certainly a choice in itself. I appreciate the boldness of the changes, even if they don’t all quite work. The costumes are pleasant enough, if not as spectacular as you might hope for somebody as fashion forward as Elle Woods. The show lacks that real wow number, though Courtney and co still manage to look fabulous at all times.

While this show may prove divisive to some, ultimately what we are left with is a refreshing take on an already fantastic show. There is room for improvement with certain design elements but when you have a cast as phenomenal as this performing as well as they do, it’s hard to take its flaws into consideration. The trick with this production is not to think too hard and just lose yourself in the feelgood factor of it. Unashamedly camp, this production of Legally Blonde is completely joyous and the perfect tonic if you are in need of a pick me up - possibly the most fun you'll have in a theatre all summer.


Legally Blonde plays at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until July 2nd . Tickets available here

Photos by Pamela Raith


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