TALIESIN ARTS CENTRE
LEGALLY BLONDE – THE MUSICAL
2 hours 20 minutes – 1 interval
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 16 FEBRUARY 2019
The 2001 film ‘Legally Blonde’ was a huge success and produced a sequel two years later. Then in 2007 a musical based on the film appeared on the stage. It has been enormously popular across the world. Somehow I have managed to miss them all – until now.
The story of the jilted Elle Woods and her determination to be seen as ‘serious’ despite the blonde locks and obsession with things pink could be seen as a modern fable of feminism. The plot includes tales of impropriety by those in privileged positions which is also quite prescient in these times of the #MeToo movement. Gender, race and equality all play their part in this confection of song, dance and plenty of sass.
As a student of Swansea University, it was a great pleasure to return to the Taliesin Arts Centre, a building which opened just as I graduated and which is set in the midst of the university campus. It is excellent to see the students who form the Swansea University Performing Arts Societies (SUPAS) using this fantastic facility to demonstrate their talents.
A bare stage provides the canvas for the pieces of moveable or flyable set – this gives a lot for the lighting design achieve and Tom Hunt (Technical and Production Stage Manager) deserves huge praise – throughout the lighting was excellent. I understand that the sets were hired – they suited the brief. However, there were issues with the sound which was very disappointing. In the first half most of the words were deemed inaudible by the poor balance between the voice microphones and the band. The lyrics are clever, witty and tell a story, but we just could not hear them – a certain amount of performer enunciation may well have been at fault here also. This is an enormous pity as so much was lost. I was, however, relieved when the second half seemed to have overcome these issues. Relief!
The band, under Andrew Cooper, worked their socks off – possibly too hard at time as referenced above – but they were lively and tuneful and brought the, mainly, brash score to life. Integral to the music was the choreography – and there was a lot of it. Praise therefore to Maribel Esdaile and Natalie Bowles who worked incredibly hard to produce an excellent level of work which never showed up anyone’s deficiencies and highlighted those with great skills.
Summer Jones-Webster is statuesque and full of the vigour which the central role of Elle Woods requires – no dumb blonde here – she sings with great power and pouts as well as the best of them. It’s a full-on performance of a character who is just a little bit annoying in the nicest possible way. As the one-time love of Elle’s life Warner Huntington, Bob Tharme is smooth and eligible and sings beautifully. The rival for his love is the, at first, bitchy Vivienne Kensington, played with great attitude by Sophie George. Bobo Poh gives full value in her performance as the feisty Enid Hoopes – great fun! Josh Jones makes the most of his small role as Nikos – his flirting with the policeman whilst in the dock is very funny. Michael Brown has barely performed on stage before, but his commanding performance as Professor Callaghan is a real stand out. This is an actor with stage presence and authority and a wonderful voice. He shouldn’t leave it long before he returns! Cameron Goodman sings like an angel and his understated and beautifully judged turn as the meek and mild Emmett has the audience’s hearts melting. In multiple roles – all vastly different from the other – Nathan WR is a whirlwind of excellence. This hilarious, physical actor is a master of characterisation and stage craft. Not to be outdone, Emma Price steals the whole show as Paulette – the hairdresser-cum-confidante. This is as assured a performance as you will ever see. Big ballsy and dynamic with a masterly control of voice (no problems hearing her in Act One) and movement. I adored it. By the by, the Riverdance ‘tribute’ is one of the great comic scenes – it will live long on my memory.
Hats off too to the large supporting cast in many roles – they worked their socks off. Full of energy and with great ensemble singing – the work of the vocal coach, Ruth Wilkins, is much in evidence.
One small further gripe. Stage crew are always dressed in black so they cannot be seen in the blackouts changing set. But when there are no blackouts and the stage is very bright, they stick out like sore thumbs. Why not dress them as characters in costumes and in colour? They would be far less intrusive and look like part of the show. That said, the show flows very well and the interest never wanes. Caelan Sailes directs with enthusiasm and pace.
Legally Blonde -The Musical is a hugely enjoyable piece of theatre, choc full of great characters and with a witty book and catchy tunes. SUPAS should be rightly proud of putting on a large-scale musical with every department populated by students. Swansea University should be proud that they have a vibrant and energetic arts community amongst its students who are bringing great theatre to the campus – I hope they are providing the support they deserve.
A fun-packed and energetic production with some stand-out performances and excellent singing throughout.
Book by Heather Hach
Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe & Nell Benjamin
Elle Woods – Summer Jones-Webster
Emmett Forest – Cameron Goodman
Warner Huntington – Bob Tharme
Paulette Bonafonte – Emma Price
Professor Callaghan – Mike Brown
Vivienne Kensington – Sophie George
Brooke Wyndham – Dani Fisher
Serena – Nona Davies
Margot – Tess Morgan
Pilar – Maisie Whiting
Enid Hoopes – Bobo Poh
Aaron Schultz – Gareth Parker
Kyle/Carlos/Dewey/Sundeep – Nathan WR
Kate – Rowan Jones
Judge – Ariana Bello
Chutney – Carrie Davies
Nikos – Josh Jones
Professor Winthrop – Bryn Bello
Professor Lowell – Kojo Otu
Professor Pforzheimer – Sam Hayward
Courtney – Sam Binnie
Dep. Store Salesgirl – Geri Smits
Hair Affair Clerk – Laura Chilvers
Da Reily – Shelby Salerno
Ensemble – Katie Martin, Angharad Turner, Eimer Rees, Harriet Graham
Director – Caelan Sailes
Assistant Director – Emma Price
Choreographer – Maribel Esdaile & Natalie Bowles
Vocal Coach – Ruth Wilkins
Musical Director – Andrew Cooper