9 July 2014

Legally Blonde - Free Rain Theatre (Review)

| John Lombard
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Anne Somes and Chris Neal (with Derek Walker as director) deliver a fresh, fun show with Legally Blonde. Elle Woods is a dumped by her boyfriend and that begins her epic campaign to win him back by following him to Harvard Law School. Hey, we’ve all done stupider things for love.

Mikayla Williams is nothing short of spectacular as Elle. Williams is a true triple threat who sings, dances and acts with equal power. Elle isn’t a bimbo who “becomes” smart (as in Born Yesterday): the message here is that Elle’s strengths have always been part of her, even if some people cannot see them beneath her peppy, red bull-fuelled bubbliness. Early on she dismantles a retailer’s testimony about a dress with sharpness and insight, and from that moment on we know that she is a born lawyer. The role could easily be played as a burlesque or parody but Williams is careful to keep the character grounded and the show is stronger for it. That said, at moments she has a wild-eyed gleeful look to her eyes that few could match. Throughout the play people try to change her (even would-be boyfriend Emmet, played by Dave Evans, takes a turn at playing Pygmalion with her) and a lot of the play deals with her struggle to succeed without compromising her identity.

The show is also blessed with possibly the best ensemble I have seen in a musical. The female “Greek chorus” (who take on a variety of roles throughout the show) understand that when the singing and dancing starts that does not mean the acting should be switched off. The chorus are excellently choreographed and are supported with a spectacular number of costume changes. There was an attention to detail in direction that made ensemble numbers deeply engaging to watch. Jenna Roberts and David Cannell also provide comic highlights throughout the show with strong character acting.

The only place where the show sags is in the love story between Elle and Emmet. Emmet is consistently nice and gentle but there is no true fire in their relationship. They go through the motions in their love songs (which are at least well sung) but there is no longing, no need beneath it. Elle is more passionate about her hair than she is about him, but we are expected to believe that she falls in love with him. We already know from how she reacts to being dumped by her boyfriend that Elle loves with a fiery madness – there was none of that in her interactions with Emmet. At best they are friends who support each other because they’re outsiders. Making them into lovers will require more chemistry between the two actors.

And unfortunately while the show is beautifully sung there are the standard technical issues we virtually always see in Canberra musical theatre. The music is over-amped to the point where it isn’t always clear who is singing what and there is a gentle staccato of intermittent glitches. I enjoyed the music a lot but more sensitive listeners will have some problems. The cast is doing its job, they deserve better technical support so the audience can properly enjoy their work.

I loved the show. It’s a strong, fresh musical well-performed. Mikayla Williams is a phenomenal talent and she’s supported by an excellent ensemble. This is a big budget production and the extra investment can be seen everywhere in the show. I’m a little dizzy thinking of the number of costume changes the ensemble go through in this show, the wings must be a flurry of performers scrambling after hot pants and trying to find their missing shoe. The cost of the high production values is a higher than normal ticket price. This is a show that deserves to be seen – hopefully there’s enough of an audience out there to support it.

And yes, there are dogs in the play, and one of them does tricks.

When: 4-27 July
Time: 8:00pm
Where: ANU Arts Centre
Price: $59.50 adult; $50.50 concession
Tickets: https://www.canberraticketing.com.au/site/whatson.php?detail=legally-blonde-the-musical-0657
Free Rain Theatre Company Production

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I saw this on the weekend and it is fabulous! And I don’t even like musicals that much. The dancing is amazing and so much energy – there is colour and movement the whole time, and a proper storyline as well.

This is one of the best local things I’ve seen in a while. It is expensive but there are a couple of cheaper matinees and Sunday night shows.

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