Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin
Book by Heather Hach
Directed by Dominic Lewis
Allegro Musical Theatre sits among the very best of Edinburgh’s grassroots theatrical societies. And to refer to them as an amateur production company, while technically accurate, would somewhat diminish the quality of their latest production – Legally Blonde. Playing at the Churchill Theatre until November 5th, the tale of a blonde sorority girl who follows her heart to Harvard Law School has become a staple favourite experience for both cinema lovers and theatregoers.
The quotes. The endless quotes, memes, and entries into the cultural zeitgeist. Elle Woods has become as fixed a figure as any Shakespearean role – and to carry that pink, glittery torch is remarkably difficult. Enter Laura Green. The less observant would immediately recognise a similarity with Witherspoon’s famous role, but Green’s embodiment of Elle Woods goes beyond the superficial (how fitting). Vocally, Green’s voice carries a musical theatre tone, accentuating word and emotion: striking a perfect pitch for the high notes and difficult changing speeds from the chipper Omigod You Guys to the sombre Legally Blonde. Green’s presence is warming, a delight to watch, and sets up this grassroots show for something remarkably professional in standard and execution.
The performance from the leading men is truly wonderful, each capturing the characterisation marvellously – and lifting otherwise one-note roles to professional standards. Joe Purcell plays a very down-to-earth Emmett, who balances out the intense energy exuded by the rest of the cast – and makes a perfect counter balance to Green. There’s little doubt that Greg McCafferty Thomson’s Warner, or Russel Coid’s Callahan, could slot right into a West-End touring show, and anyone in the audience would even notice a difference. Vocally, McCafferty Thomson has the articulation and control, an absolutely divine range for such a saccharine character. And the introduction of the initially authoritative Callahan, who gradually morphs into a predator, is carried with enough interpretation by Coid that even those familiar with the role forget the villainy it carries – a very nuanced performance in an otherwise comedic piece.
And where the bombastic energy of Act one ebbs into the interval, it is immediately picked up and offered a shot of adrenaline courtesy of Louisa Everett as exercise guru Brooke, in a routine which merges tight solo vocals with a harmonious melody from the ensemble. But a genuine moment must be taken for Felicity Halfpenny, whose choreography upon such a limited stage space is exceptional in both practicality and outstanding in stage technics – utilising both the depth of the space and the staggering of performers to accentuate crowd numbers without feeling too crowded; everyone on stage is a star for a night.
But everyone still plays second fiddle to their four-legged companions. Even the wonders of the Grecian chorus, despite their marvel, lose out to the cheers and tenderness of tonight’s Bruiser the Chihuahua (played by Faery) and Archie, the French Bulldog playing Rufus. But it’s a close call, as the trio of Valley High girls come cheerleading deities Anna Spence (last seen on this stage in Drowsy Chaperone), Monica Fowler, and Rebecca Drever bring their vim and vigour to the show in droves – both from a comedic front, but with a terrific sense of presence and energy. It’s a bold show, which fires on all cylinders even in the grimness of the Autumn weather, and this trio of talented women enhances every scene they collide into.
Lewis’s direction recognises the maximalist angle of the production, and rather than shying from its presence – grasps it and throws it a full force into the audience. And it works, a near-perfect amount of the time. The comedy especially, particularly given the writing’s slightly outdated nature of jokes and jabs, benefits tremendously by leaning into the tropes rather than attempting to subvert them -resulting in a glorious rendition of Gay or European? But the Queen of the audience’s hearts. The star of the evening, sharing a spotlight with Green is Rachael Anderson’s Paulette.
It’s a notorious role to make your own – like Elle Woods and Reese Witherspoon, the Salon owner Paulette is instilled with actress Jennifer Coolidge. Yet Anderson, with Lewis’ comedic direction and James McCutheon’s musical direction makes the role entirely her own. A terrific set of pipes secure Ireland as a firm favourite of the evening, which carries the notes and projection right out onto the streets of Morningside. But there’s a sincerity to the part, which is often forgotten, and one which alongside Jo Heinemeier’s Vivienne brightens the show and produces the depth of thought the production is known.
It’s only where McCutcheon’s ten-piece band begin to develop an off-kilter that the production has its momentary blips: where they swing too wildly to either side of drowning the cast or struggling to maintain the musical’s quick-paced momentum. For a show which is otherwise performing to professional standards, this minor gripe doesn’t truly detract from the band, who do a spiffing job regardless, often hitting that sweet spot.
Legally Blonde leaves an absolute pain for audience members. A pain you don’t even realise until you’ve left, got on the bus, and made it into bed. It’s only when the dopey smile you’ve had for over three hours drops, that you realise it never left from the first note to the final bow. The love and passion exuding from Allegro’s Legally Blonde are unlike the dedication found in similar grassroots productions, and likely even more than some professional tours. This is grassroots presentation at its best. At its finest. At its most engrossing – and at its absolute blondest. Bravissimo.
Grassroots Theatre at it’s Best, Boldest & Blondest
Legally Blonde runs at The Churchill Theatre until November 5th
Tickets for which may be obtained here.