Words: Simon Button; pictures: Pamela Raith
Four years after its reinvention of Little Shop of Horrors, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre brings back the funny with Lucy Moss’s (Six) smart new take on Legally Blonde.
There have been other musicals in the meantime but not much to chuckle over. Jesus Christ Superstar was superlatively staged but hardly a barrel of laughs, and both the misguided darkening of Evita and the drearily PC redo of Carousel left me cold.
Courtney Bowman (Elle), Billy Nevers (Ensemble), and Allie Daniel (Ensemble) in Legally Blonde at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (Photo Pamela Raith)
But oh my God you guys, Legally Blonde is a blast of fresh, fabulous air - which is just what you’d expect from the co-writer and co-director of Six. She’s embraced the bend and snap, silliness and sass of the Sheridan Smith-starring original and bettered it in a riot of comedy and colour
Moss has cast Courtney Bowman, who played Anne Boleyn in Six, as law student Elle Woods, who enrolls at Harvard Law School to prove that she’s not just a ditzsy blonde after her wannabe senator boyfriend dumps her for not being serious enough.
It’s genius casting and not just because having Bowman - a dual-heritage woman who proudly calls herself plus-sized in interviews - in the lead foregrounds the fact it’s not only bony white women who struggle to be taken seriously (I know, right!)
Courtney Bowman (Elle) in Legally Blonde at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (Photo Pamela Raith)
Courtney also brings peerless comic timing and a great pop voice, and she conveys so much with just a toss of her weave or a flick of her shoulder. Pink is her signature colour and, with a Greek Chorus serving as her own Pink Ladies and a dog on a pink leash, she stands out a mile in a sea of dull browns and beiges.
Another stand-out is Nadine Higgin as beautician Paulette, who sings a rib-tickling ode to 'Ireland' and has such an amazing set of pipes she’d blow the roof off the theatre if it had one.
And Lauren Drew as fitness guru Brooke does a high-energy Act Two opener with a skipping rope, flanked by just-as-athletic dancers, that beggars belief.
Nadine Higgin (Paulette) in Legally Blonde at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (Photo Pamela Raith)
Legally Blonde opened on Broadway in 2007 and at London’s Savoy Theatre three years later, and no changes have been made to the script beyond references to the likes of Khloe Kardashian and Timothée Chalamet.
No changes are necessary because the character of Elle was ahead of her time in standing up for herself in a man’s world and seems very much of her time now.
Some of the songs (by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin) sound a bit samey, although ‘Gay or European?’ is an hilarious highlight - ending with the stage bathed in the colours of the rainbow flag in a production that’s all about diversity and joyful campery. (The dogs are played by actors who end up getting off with each other.)
And there’s nothing samey about Courtney Bowman. So good in Six and as Fatimah in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, she’s sensational here. Like Elle Woods, she has a blazingly bright future ahead of her.
Legally Blonde is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until July 2nd. For more information visit openairtheatre.com and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.