Legally Blonde - Two 5 Star Reviews!

June 17, 2022
Legally Blonde - Two 5 Star Reviews!

Our full-scale musical theatre production this year was Legally Blonde, and our wonderful students received some incredible reviews from some top Musical Theatre publications:

"Of the thousands of musicals written over the last near-century of this art form, there are only a handful that can be safely described as a “sure thing”. These shows are so well-written, so tightly structured, and so intelligently put together that it doesn’t seem possible for a production to fail so long as the musicians play most of the right notes and the actors say most of the right words.

Despite the snobbery you might expect, Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s Legally Blonde has proven itself to be one of these shows: it might actually be impossible to do badly. How entirely thrilling then to see a production that was not only passable but went above and beyond to make an already good show truly great. What’s more, this was a drama school production.

Rather than sticking to the setting of the original Reese Witherspoon movie or bring the action into the modern day like other revivals, this Associated Studios production took Elle Woods back to the 1980s – ancient history for this young company. Alice McNicholas’ costumes were a neon (and pink, of course) delight, and the eye make-up was suitably excessive. Ethan Cheek’s ingenious set used four enormous, wheeled letters spelling “ELLE” (pink, of course) to take us on our journey from sorority house to hair salon to Harvard Law School.

The great joy of student productions – beyond seeing the stars of tomorrow perform classic musical theatre at affordable prices – is the absolute abundance of talent they have at their disposal with which to fill the stage. Choreographers May Tether and Lucy Aiston took full advantage of the large cast and created dance numbers full of energy, but which never looked over-crowded or messy. Director Tracy Collier had done an excellent job of marshalling all available resources and had crafted a thoroughly enjoyable show that turned every dial up to 11, even when the audience would have been more than satisfied with a three.

Are you a talent agent looking for the next wave of great musical theatre performers? You would be well-advised to keep your eye on Associated Studios. The West End-ready talent on display in this production warmed the heart. The future of theatre is in very safe hands indeed.

Case in point: Marc Favre, who stepped up to play Warner Huntington III at the very last moment after the original performer had to pull out (to be cast in the new West End run of Frank Wildhorn’s Your Lie in April, no less). Favre was delightfully loathsome in this key role and his assured performance gave no suggestion of the very short time he had had to prepare.

Other standouts included Matt Bacon, whose stage presence was remarkable as an intimidating and sleazy Professor Callahan, and Alice Orlik as Vivienne: a smaller part, but Orlik nailed the role perfectly and showed off some of the strongest vocals of the cast.

Tegan Theobald was a comic joy as Enid Hoopes, Ilya Akinfiev was hilarious as UPS delivery man Kyle, and Eliza Pescott, Millie Gee Land and Charley Rees absolutely lit up the stage every time they appeared as the Delta Nu Greek chorus. Meanwhile, Tara Wilkes gave a physical performance masterclass as Brooke Wyndham: definitely one of the trickier roles of the show given the sheer difficulty of all that singing while skipping.

As Emmett Forrest, Ruairi Dickson found the perfect tonal balance in the cynical, hard-working law student who nevertheless has a heart of gold. His vocal harmonies were sweet, and he was a formidable stage presence to hold his own and stay grounded with so many larger-than-life characters surrounding him.

Laurie Hass-Sinclair was an absolute scene-stealer as Paulette, not only eliciting the performance’s biggest laughs, but also frequent whoops and cheers at her sheer vocal virtuosity. Admittedly, as a character, Paulette does have some of the best lines, but Hass-Sinclair always elevated, committing 100% to the performance and finding wonderful new moments of comedy in the role.

The demanding lead role of Elle Woods was double-cast, and on this occasion the audience were treated to Arwyn Vernold’s take on the fun-loving sorority girl turned unexpected legal mastermind. It takes a lot to stand out in a large cast full of exceptional talent, but Vernold had the audience in the palm of her hand as she took on Elle’s journey from Malibu to Harvard. Her vocals were powerful, her comedy asides hilarious, and most impressively, she did not put a single foot wrong throughout the entire 100-minute show, despite being front and centre for the majority.

The same could be said for the entire ensemble, in fact. This wasn’t a seasoned cast which had been performing the same show eight times a week in the West End for years, these were drama students who had just recently learned this show for a one-week run. Yet despite the complex choreography of this physically demanding show, the cast exuded polished professionalism. Even performers who were mostly confined to the chorus in this production showed signs of being superstars themselves. Including, of course, Amelia Fadden who played the lead role of Elle at alternate performances and was no doubt every bit as brilliant as Vernold.

Legally Blonde is a near-perfect show. To see it elevated yet further by a company of stupendously talented new performers was nothing short of a delight. The sheer energy and joy exuding from this production was staggering. Associated Studios should be incredibly proud of this cohort of astonishing new talent they are unleashing on the world of musical theatre. If you see any of the above names on a cast list, make sure you buy front row tickets and prepare to have your mind blown."

by Ian Bowkett for Musical Theatre Review - 5 Stars!

"Legally Blonde is arguably even more relevant in 2024 than it was when the Savoy Theatre production began previews in December 2009, in part thanks to the #MeToo Movement, which started in 2006 but only really took off in 2017. But there’s so much more to Legally Blonde than Elle Woods (at the performance I attended, Amelia Fadden, the role shared with Arwyn Vernold) confiding in teaching assistant Emmett Forrest (Ruairi Dickson) that [Professor] Callahan (Matt Bacon) hit on me”.

Indeed, the payback is glorious, even if it is a little fantastical, as various narrative strands come together with the subtlety of a town crier. Naturally, there’s a need to put aside, this being a student production, that Elle’s parents (Joe Roper and Sussanna Kable) look as though they are in the same age bracket as Elle herself. The set is largely comprised of four mobile platforms, each of which spelt out a letter in the word ‘Elle’ on one side and had a number of compartments and ledges on the other. I was slightly mischievously waiting to see if there was, however inadvertently and momentarily, ever going to be a moment when the letters spelt ‘Lele’ or ‘Eell’ – fair play to the production, it never happened, which was quite an achievement given how much the set and props needed to move around throughout the evening to transform the stage from, say, lecture theatre to dormitory room.

That the set was relatively minimal allowed for swift scene changes. A four-piece band led by Greg Arrowsmith did very well throughout the performance, with Andrew Johnson’s sound design ensuring a decent balance between band and cast. A playful on-stage chemistry between Fadden’s Elle and Dickson’s Forrest was very convincing and contrasted well with the slight awkwardness between Elle and her love interest Warner Huntington III (Marc Favre). May Tether’s choreography suited the performance space brilliantly, and despite a large cast performing in a studio space, the stage never felt too crowded.

Much has been said elsewhere, and rightly so, about the class system in Britain, although Elle’s experience at Harvard Law not only suggests but boldly demonstrates that America isn’t exactly equal: her student journey isn’t, to begin with, that far removed from the title character in the Willy Russell play Educating Rita. ‘Go back to Malibu!’ is the general sentiment of the more snobby classmates. Substitute ‘Malibu’ with any other place name where someone from elsewhere may have come from, and it’s indicative of how intolerant some people really are.

The portrayal of the legal profession as cutthroat and ruthless came across loud and clear, and what gives the show a strong appeal is that Elle’s success comes through hard work, even if it had to be teased out of her by Emmett. A local hairdresser, Paulette (Laurie Hass-Sinclair) practically stole the show in the first half with two songs about the same thing, ‘Ireland’ and ‘Ireland (Reprise)’. In the second half, there’s something for almost everyone, with the ‘Bend and Snap’ either helping or hindering, depending on one’s perspective, Paulette’s hopes for romance with her delivery driver, Kyle (Ilya Akinfiev) and ‘There! Right There!’ thanks to Niccolo Maccaferri’s Nikos and Thomas Turner’s Carlos, was utterly hilarious.

Above all, there was the sense that the cast were thoroughly enjoying themselves, which ultimately rubbed off on the audience. It would have taken a very hard heart indeed not to have come away with a smile on one’s face. The future of musical theatre is looking very bright and energetic with students like these coming through the ranks: full marks, then, for a performance without fault."

by Chris Omaweng for LondonTheatre1 - 5 Stars!

"From the first notes, Musical Director Greg Arrowsmith masterfully sets the tone with the band’s lively energy that filled the theatre. The stage came alive as Margot, Serena, and Pilar, portrayed energetically by Eliza Pescott, Millie Gee Land, and Charley Rees, chat about their friend’s expected engagement and dance exuberantly with the Delta Nu sisters. Although the opening number “Omigod You Guys” initially hits a bit too loud and high, the sound quickly smooths out. The combination of powerful vocals, vibrant costumes, bold makeup, playful lines, and retro dance moves create a cohesive and nostalgic ambiance, setting the stage for Elle’s entrance. Once she begins singing, the show is unmistakably hers.

Arwyn Vernold captures the essence of Woods flawlessly, seamlessly transitioning from a bubbly sorority girl to a heartbroken young woman and finally a triumphant graduate. Her portrayal is so convincing that it often seems as if Reese Witherspoon herself is on stage, and her vocals more than match those of the original musical.

The dynamic between Elle and Emmett, portrayed by Ruairi Dickson, consists of a mix of support and spotlight-stealing moments throughout the show, such as his subtle body language as she sings during So Much Better and she nicely passes the baton to him over Take It Like a Man and Chip On My Shoulder. On the opposite end, Matt Bacon‘s Professor Callaghan is a delightful antagonist, ranging from laughably petty to viscerally repulsive.

There! Right There! is one of the highlights of the night, drawing roaring laughs from the audience throughout thanks to the spotless delivery from the entire cast and the comedic and energetic portrayals by Niccolo Maccaferri as Nikos and Thomas Turner as Carlos.

May Tether‘s choreography sparkles all evening, yet the standout is undoubtedly the dance number featuring Paulette and Kyle near the end of the Legally Blonde reprise. Laurie Hass-Sinclair and Ilya Akinfiev bring these roles to life with outstanding chemistry and impressive athleticism."

by Andrei-Alexandru Mihail for Everything Theatre - 4 Stars!