STARTING life in 2001 as an autobiographical novel by an American girl whose bubbly personality and obsession with fashion and beauty had made her the laughing stock of fellow students at Stanford law school, Legally Blonde rapidly became a hit film and then an internationally successful musical.
Eighteen years on and I must confess to never having seen either movie or stage show, so the Gillingham School production, playing to packed houses with extra seats until Saturday, was a revelation. I started wondering if I could possibly survive an evening of overheated teenage girls flapping their hands and screeching Omigodyouguys.
But by the interval I was totally hooked on this feel-good, high-energy story, which might have had some real impact on the Time’s Up movement and its siblings. The brilliant Gillingham production by Sarah Lowery and Jane McCarthy, and the extraordinary band under the baton of Oliver Higgs, is a riot of singing, dancing, comic, life-affirming, romantic pizzazz.
The story, in case anyone else didn’t know, starts as Elle prepares for her big date with high-school sweetheart Warner, all ready to graciously accept a proposal. But to Warner, she has just been a pretty toy, and now he’s off to study law and head for the future his family has always planned. Heartbroken, our heroine decides to follow him to law school.
That means some serious study, and she is much brighter than she, and all those around her, think. Soon she’s running rings round her more conventional colleagues with her killer combination of keen instinct and all-night reading.
Grace MacDonald and Tom Dean bring their stage experience to bear as Elle and Warner, with Cameron Shepherd as the faithful Emmett and Callum Longmuir as the sleazy professor. It’s Amy Rippin who stops the show as the hilarious Paulette in a remarkably mature performance.
The directors have obviously encouraged the huge supporting cast to create vignette characters, and with a scene-stealer like Sam Basinger-Adams strutting his stuff it shows how valuable that can be.
Everyone involved works on “being the best they can” (as the song goes).
Gillingham School has a well deserved reputation for varied, interesting productions, and this one will be a hard act to follow. It’s a triumph!