Who Knows One: Legally Blonde
After a long dry spell, I finally got back to the West End this weekend and saw two shows, both of which, coincidentally, featured a former Dr Who.
I’m not a particular fan of the Doctor, though I do watch the show from time to time. So far removed am I from Who fandom that it wasn’t till Saturday morning that I realised the connection between the two shows I’d selected for my day of theatre fun.
The first, Legally Blonde, sees the fifth Doctor, Peter Davidson, play the cad professor,
Callaghan. The second, Much Ado About Nothing, stars the ninth Doctor, David Tennant, as the flighty, marriage-hating Benedick.
Legally Blonde is a frothy musical concoction. The characters might have the emotional substance of a Tictac, but they’re so fun and engaging so you really don’t mind very
much. Based on the film of the same name, the show tells the tale of Elle Woods
who follows her beloved boyfriend Warner to Harvard Law School. She ends by
finding a far more worthy man a strong sense of identity into the bargain.
The musical follows the plot of the film pretty closely, but a couple of characters are cut. Professor Stromwell, the strong female character who becomes Elle’s mentor is eliminated. And Dorky David Kidney who is even more of a geek than Emmett but kind and Elle’s friend, is also left out. The lack of these two characters weakens the story because they are almost the only two characters in the film (except for Emmett and Elle) who have integrity and a real-world credibility that serves to anchor the plot. Their absence leaves Elle in a sort of moral desert and suggests she turns to Emmett because
he’s the only ‘real’ person around. Their elimination also makes the show more
of a confection than it might otherwise be.
I attended the afternoon performance on Susan McFadden’s last day as Elle and so it was, therefore, a muck-up matinee. Since I hadn’t seen the show before I probably missed a lot of the gags, but I did pick up on a very strongly Irish theme running through the performances and a rather unusual number of potatoes. Don’t ask.
Susan played Elle with great charm and enthusiasm. She might, perhaps, have brought more vulnerability to her interpretation, and I thought she seemed a tad old for a college student, but these are minor quibbles. Her voice was strong and her energy boundless. She is very engaging and if you can judge such things as an audience member, my feeling was she is well-liked by her peers. Don’t scoff; that’s a far more important matter than
you might imagine.
I liked Lee Mead’s portrayal as the nerdy hero, Emmett Forrest. Though Lee is perhaps too handsome to pass for the easily-ignored teaching assistant, the way he and Susan played it was she was too besotted with her beloved Warner to notice him. Lee seemed much more at home in Emmett’s skin than he ever was as Wicked’s Fiyero. The part allowed him the chance to show off his acting, which was excellent. He and Susan had a lovely chemistry together and you would never know they’d only been playing together for a couple of weeks.
For me the big surprise was Peter Davidson. Yes, the Doctor himself. I have to admit, I’d never rated him very much before. He seemed a bit bland and, ironically, about thirty or so years ago would have made an excellent Emmett. But he played the part of the salacious professor with wicked charm and I thought he was fabulous. Not a bad voice either.
The rest of the cast were enthusiastic and energetic and even if the songs weren’t particularly memorable, the plot stretched credibility to its limit, and the set so pink as to make you reach for sunglasses, the combination was so entertaining as to leave you smiling at the end of it.
Legally Blonde is currently playing at the Savoy theatre, London, and is also on tour throughout the UK. http://www.legallyblondethemusical.co.uk/
Part Two: my review of David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing follows.