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Legally Blonde: A Colourful Explosion of Fun

In a colourful explosion of fun, the University of Leeds’ Stage Musical Society (SMS) took Legally Blonde to the Riley Smith Theatre’s stage. The opening number, ‘Omigod You Guys’ set an incredibly high bar for the evening to come. Legally Blonde is one of my favourite musicals, ever. It’s the definition of a good time with a spirit-raising story that is simultaneously genuine and riotous. All this combined left me with high expectations for SMS’ production that many friends told me were unrealistic. However, I can strongly say that Legally Blonde is one of the best productions I have seen in the Riley Smith. Admittedly, its imposing stage doesn’t provide the intimacy of its ‘in the round’ contemporaries like Pyramid, but Legally Blonde’s outpour of sparkles, joy and, most importantly, pink, easily enveloped the whole audience into its world. A feat that is extra impressive considering that a record-breaking 315 tickets were sold for opening night.

First on stage were the Fates (Elle’s sorority sisters) with Annabel Martin kicking off the show followed by Casiah Palmer-Stirling and Ella Wilson. The trio brought animated energy that was maintained throughout the show, in a synchronised triad of glee and talent. Leading lady Elena Lacy shone as Elle Woods. I greatly enjoyed the contrast of her naturalistic acting to the surrounding razzle-dazzle – this was especially clear through her purposeful stage presence as she snapped in and out of leading choreo while donning the sparkling ring master’s costume in ‘What You Want’. She easily convinced the Harvard academics, and the audience, that she belonged at Harvard. Other highlights of Lacy’s performance included the clarity and strength of her voice in the demanding Act 1 finale, ‘So Much Better’ and the poignant emotionally charged depths she reached in the closing stages of the show in ‘Legally Blonde’. She illustrated Elle’s heart wrenching doubts in herself (particularly in the line “some girls where just meant to smile”) after being subject to Callaghan’s unacceptable advances.

Of the Harvard cohort Zac Lovat’s Warner Huntington was predictably dislikeable, Kiera Ford’s Enid Hoops hilarious (with both comedic physicality and timing used commendably) and Ella Smith’s Vivienne Kensington regal and poised. Jack Foster’s Emmett Forrest was sweet and endearing without compromising the determination that so clearly drives his character, as illustrated in the important ‘Chip On My Shoulder’ where he inspires Elle to grasp a new outlook on who she is and what she wants to prove. However, my highlight was Stevie Catney’s Professor Callahan. Catney commanded the stage with a stressful tension that built with a roaring chorus until Elle’s inevitable banishment from the classroom. It truly was a thrilling watch. Away from the pressure of law school, Georgette Case-Watson’s Paulette Bonafonte provided a warm and amusing presence with amazing facials and an excellent voice to match. I’m sure the rest of the audience will agree that Paulette’s happiness with her dream man, Irish UPS delivery man Brendan (Louis Dixon), was greatly deserved.

Act 2 began with ‘Whipped Into Shape’ that made me feel out of breath just watching! Abbie Freeston’s Brooke Wynham took no prisoners as she led her dance posse through the iconic skipping-rope twirling and jumping cardio-choreography. Though the help provided by off-stage hidden singers was evident towards the end of the song, it in no way detracted from the polished routine taking place on stage – just one example from a consistently impeccable level of dancing, arranged by choreographer Abbie Freeston herself and assisted by Gabriel Curtois. Throughout the show, routines were polished and importantly steered clear of the common trap of leads “parking and barking.” Meanwhile the Ensemble and Principal Dancers joined on stage, twirling around the leads. Entries and exits were fluid and movement in and out of songs was smooth and purposeful. Energy from the Ensemble (Ting Ting Cheung, Elliot King, Brent Edington, Charlotte Hamilton Ratcliffe, Millie Thomas, Ella Fairley) was synergetic to the Principal Dancers (Alice Baker, Nona Suzuki, David Bygraves, Savannah Perry, Betsy Wilson, Louis Dixon).

A show this large, performed at this calibre, takes an incredible amount of dedication. Co-directors Olivia Taylor-Goy's and Maeve Gallagher’s creative vision shines through the entire production, an impressive labour of love in their directing debuts. A particular creative choice I enjoyed was the direction of the iconic ‘Gay or European’. The cast’s impeccable timing on tongue-twisting lyrics and snappy choreo – complete with a hilarious choice to have David Bygraves’ camp Carlos erupt from within the crowd (directly behind me!). In addition, the lawyers and jurors bearing mini pride flags at the song’s climax left me with a face that genuinely hurt from smiling. Though not an actual part of the show itself, SMS’s choice to highlight a member of their cast on their lively Instagram feed as Star of The Week, from those with smallest to the largest of roles speaks to how well led this show is. It’s clear that community and friendship take the utmost importance, for both the cast and characters in Legally Blonde’s uplifting world.

Both the quality and sheer amount of costumes are testament to the creativity and organisation of producer Amy Worsley (assisted by Elena Lacy and David Bygraves). The high standard of costumes and props truly brought this show to the level of professionality that the quality of acting, dance and singing deserved. My only minor qualm would be that the set of scaffolding and themed sheets felt underwhelming and was a disservice to the rest of the show’s high calibre. Musical direction from Matthew Stanley (assisted by Jess Crowther and Lilian Sztankov, aided by rehearsal pianist Ben Smith) was evidently successful as the entire cast was confident and clear in their singing. Finally, SMS’s collaboration on this show with the Backstage Society must be mentioned as the timing of lighting, sound and only minor microphone issues ensured a cohesive and successful show.

SMS truly ended their second term with a successful blaze of glittery glory. If you would like to get involved with this fabulous society and their tight-knit yet welcoming community, they have a Give It A Go event on the 9th May 7-8pm and auditions for their Cabaret showcase on 10th May 5pm-10.30pm with all details on the @luusms Instagram.

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