Through a deal they have running through previews, I got an eighth row center orchestra seat for ten pounds, so my critical faculties were not as sharply tuned as they might have been for fifty or sixty pounds. At ten pounds, the show was delightful. But I had the sense that I have had at other recent musical comedies that I am watching a slighly hyper entertainment machine that substitutes high energy for what should be at the heart (and heart is certainly in short supply here) of a musical -- good songs and winning performances.
I never saw the movie of LEGALLY BLONDE so have no basis for comparison. The story is simple enough, so simple that the show could have been done in half the time and lost nothing of the narrative. The lyrics are OK, but the score seldom breaks into anything resembling a tune -- I kept feeling that I was getting the verse without the refrain. So director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell keeps the show loud and constantly moving so one doesn't notice the lack of substance.
When I look back on great musical performances I have seen (Gwen Verdon, Bernadette Peters, Vanessa Williams, Angela Lansbury, Chita Rivera), they were by performers who knew how to draw the audience to them without constantly pushing the audience. It's more fun when the performer doesn't seem to be working so hard. LEGALLY BLONDE'S leading role requires the performer to be onstage almost constantly, even changing costume in front of the audience. Sheridan Smith will get better when she doesn't seem to be working so hard. She is a winning performer (I loved her in the revival of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS a couple of years ago). She isn't naturally a dancer but gets through the choreography without embarrassing herself. Duncan James, a former boy band singer, works so hard at crooning his two songs that he loses the beat -- just sing the notes, darling! He looks good -- little else is required of him. The two performers who walk away with the show are Adam Gaumond (Emmett) and ex-Doctor Who Peter Davison. Gaumond is relaxed and charming -- he reminds me of the young Jerry Orbach. He really belongs onstage and you understand why Elle chooses him over James. Davison as the college professor is obviously having fun being in a big musical.
Most of the audience at the Thursday matinee I atteded were young women between the ages of twelve and thirty -- gaggles of them. My sense is that, like many musicals, this show aims for women and gay men. In typical Jerry Mitchell style, there's lots of beefcake. I loved the UPS man in very short shorts who kept coming in with "a special package." and the song "Is He Gay or European." Lots of gay male characters and a lesbian. The women loved it all. They squealed when Duncan James made his entrance, but even that heartthrob is openly bisexual, so something for everybody.
So at ten pounds it was delightful if a bit frenetic.
LEGALLY BLONDE, directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Savoy Theatre, January 7, 2010.