I was privileged to be invited to the press night for this show – and what a show! If you already have a ticket, you’re in for a treat. If not – why not?
One potential problem with musical theatre is balancing the story and the music, which can often take over, leaving the audience enjoying the evening but missing the plot. Ventnor Theatre Group have not fallen into this trap – underpinning the fun is the empowering (and largely true) story of Elle Woods, an apparently empty-headed blonde enrolling in law school just to win back her ex, and discovering her intelligence, her passion for supporting the ‘underdog’ and herself – oh, and ditching the ex for a partner far more worthy of her.
But fun, music and dancing is there in spades too: the core team are impressive, whether as sorority girls, cheerleaders, a workout video group, a Greek chorus or a band of Irish dancers – they never miss a beat singing or dancing.
The ensemble cast are a delight too, frequently taking on more than one role as well as providing backing in song and dance. The Harvard law students – notably Will Foreman, Sami Edris and Roberta Boreham – are suitably nerdish, while a few cameos have to be mentioned: Jamie Caruthers is brilliantly boorish as Dewey; the roles of Mr and Mrs Woods are in the capable and experienced hands of John Woodford and Bobby Oddy; it was great to see Traci Reader back on stage as the judge and Sam Birmingham needs a mention in the role of Chutney – if only for the amazing wig! Oh, and Cliff Dutton and Joe Plumb – all I will say is look out for them and laugh.
When Charlie Merricks, as Kyle, appears we wonder who he is and why he is carrying a parcel…all becomes clear: he is destined for the kooky beautician Paulette. The brilliant Holly Gardiner, as Paulette, almost steals every scene she is in, and it has to be said she is – in every way – a knockout! Marie Scott is amazing as Brooke, accused of her husband’s murder. Apart from leading a song in which everyone manages to sing, dance and skip for the whole number, she portrays Brooke’s vulnerability to perfection.
Not so vulnerable is the unpleasant and manipulative Harvard Professor Callahan, played by John Kerr, another experienced Island performer. It was great to see another well-known Island actor back on stage: Nick Weightman was perfect as Warner Huntingdon III – posh, confident that his destiny is to become a Senator, and cold-hearted enough to throw aside anyone who stands in his way – like his girlfriend Elle – in favour of the apparently more suitable Vivienne. Emily Smith made the character of Vivienne easy to dislike in her early scenes but skilfully brought out another side to her as the story progressed.
The very talented Matt Rawlings brought every bit of his wide acting, singing and dancing experience to the role of Emmett, Callahan’s assistant, who unlike everyone else supports and encourages Elle in her law studies and finally…well, you’ll have to see what happens.
But Legally Blonde is essentially the story of one woman, and the role of Elle is a huge undertaking. Sam Cattee does more than succeed – she is just fantastic! I can’t say too much more without giving away spoilers, but the show is worth watching for her alone. And how she and the rest of the cast keep up the demanding high energy routines for two and a half hours is in itself amazing.
A mention must also go to the set designers and builders – this show has lots of settings and the stage crew need as much energy as the cast. And of course, the ‘real’ stars of the show are the two gorgeous dogs, Ernie as Rufus and Spanky as Bruiser, both of whom played their role to perfection and charmed everyone in sight. The unseen but very much heard live orchestra underpins and frames both singing and some of the dialogue.
Director Verity Godwin and her creative and production team are to be congratulated – the standard of performances tells of a lot of very hard work and preparation: all they need now is an audience! So do yourself a favour: Legally Blonde opens tonight at Medina Theatre and runs until Sunday 24th May. Get tickets on 01983 823884 or online…. or there may be a few on the door on the night. The Independent called Legally Blonde ‘Ridiculously enjoyable from start to finish’ and that is certainly true of Ventnor Theatre Group’s production.