Friday, August 23, 2019


Legally Blonde - The Musical.

 Music and Lyrics Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Book by Heather Hach. Based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the Metro Goldwyn Mayer film. Directed by Jim McMullen. Musical direction. Richard Daley. Choreography. Sarah Tulley. Canberra Philharmonic Society. Erindale Theatre. August 22 – September 7 2019. Bookings:  

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Caitlin Schilg and Cast in Whipped Into Shape
Photo by Ross Gould

What a joyous production Philo’s Legally Blonde – The Musical  is. Sure it’s a typically American musical with its fair share of sentimental schmalz and loud and boisterous gusto. But don’t be fooled. There’s more to this musical than meets the eye, and director Jim McMullen with his cast and creative team make sure that Elle Wood’s story of the country girl (Charlotte Gearside) who makes it good at Harvard and with the help of a Greek-style chorus and law student Emmet (Nick Valois) ditches her teenage, self-centred heartthrob, Warner (Patrick Galen-Mules), and the vacuous stereotype of the dumb blonde. In a town where musicals are the pick of the theatrical crop, Philo’s offerings have been up there with the very best and the company’s production of Legally Blonde – The Musical is no exception. Philo has scored a palpable hit with its must see, feel good, brilliantly staged fun production, and with an important message to boot.

Charlotte Gearside and the Cast
Most people will know the story of Elle striving to redeem her boyfriend’s favour by getting into law school, her battle to confront prejudice and humiliation at the hands of Warner’s new girlfriend, Vivienne (Kate Bramston ) and the cantankerous,  sarcastic Professor Callahan(Ian Croker), only to come through with the help of friends and succeed in spite of her blonde hair and proud prink couture. Go blondes who wear pink!!!

Where do I start to sing this production’s praises? Ian Croker’s set design might be a good place to start, brightening up the stage for the explosive opening number Omigod you Guys. Throughout the show, choreographer, Sarah Tulley turns out one classily choreographed number after another and the company fling themselves into every number with panache and high octane revelry. Singing and skipping Whipped Into Shape under instruction by Fitness Guru Brooke (Caitlin Schilg) is a tour de force moment of youth, energy and skill. In an ensemble as focused and well-rehearsed as this one, a slip of the skipping rope is quickly rescued with unintrusive elan that would impress any pro. Tulley’s choreography is an undisputed star of this show and it is matched in the songs by Richard Daley’s musical direction, assisted by Caleb Campbell and proficient members of the band. Songwriters Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin have turned out an eclectic repertoire, drawing on influences from Weil to Webber,  pop to rock, not to mention hip hop from feisty lesbian, Enid(Meaghan Stewart) and a touch of G and S in the courtroom. My only quibble with the company numbers is the lack of diction. The sheer eruption of energy, the exuberant playing of the orchestra and the combatative effect of the miked voices tended to fuse the lyrics with only snatches helping to propel the story with some clarity. Voice warmups before the show could help

Amelia Juniper-Gray,Courtney Hayden,Amy Campbell, Delta Nu's
in Legally Blonde The Musical, designed by Ian Croker with
Lighting by Phil Goodwin.  Photo: Ross Gould
It is often said that 90 percent of successful direction is in the casting and Philo’s star triumvirate of McMullen, Daley and Tulley are 100   the pink with their casting. And that includes the cute as blueberry pie Ivy the Chihauha and Winston Barry Ladlow the Bulldog. W.C. Fields warned “Never act with animals or children” He knew the talented scene stealing threat of an animal on the set and it to the credit of the cast of Legally Blonde – The Musical  that they could hold their own in the company of these cute mutts.
Hannah Maurice and Charlotte Gearside as Paulette and Elle
in Legally Blonde  Th Musical.  Photo by Ross Gould
 In a company as strong as this one, it seems unfair to single out any performances. Ensemble and principals give their all and audiences are swept along on the sound of their own rapturous applause. However, it would be remiss not to mention the stand out performance of Hannah Maurice in the role of Paulette, the Hair Affair hairdresser. Her rendition of Ireland is a showstopper in a show where so many company numbers are knockouts and the solo numbers risk coming second best. In performance and song Maurice is a commanding presence on the Erindale Theatre stage.

Heather Hach’s witty adaptation of Amanda Brown’s novel and the Metro-Goldwyn film makes for a delightful, uplifting and thoroughly affirmative night at the theatre . Philo has once again proven that it can stage a musical with the best of them. It’s funny, heart stopping and heart melting and a night at the theatre that stays with you. And all that’s left to say is Omigod You Guys!