Legally Blonde – The Musical

Southampton Musical Society  The Point, Eastleigh  Mark Ponsford 1 May 2024

There can’t be many Musical Societies who haven’t yet presented this romp of a show, which fact alone must attest to its ongoing popularity. It’s not hard to see why. There can’t be many feelings in Musical Comedy to equal the sheer delight of watching an irresistible central character triumph over all the odds… and in this particular show, there are some formidable odds to overcome.

There are also, certainly for me, few experiences more enjoyable than sitting amongst an audience having a genuinely enjoyable time, a point currently being illustrated this week at The Point, where Southampton Musical Society’s cracking take on the piece is running until Saturday. For those unfamiliar with the show (or the film), this is the story of the adorable Elle Woods, who within its first ten minutes has her heart broken… and then courageously decides to “Do something about it”, resulting in a crazy whirlwind of self-discovery, new and unexpected friendships, professional triumphs and a renewed personal happiness. You can’t help but cheer her every step of the way, particularly since she achieves all of the above through her natural savvy, sweetness and sense of decency… and perhaps more than a touch of kindness from an unexpected source.

As many of us can confirm from experience, there’s nothing like a drama on a first night, and a pre-show announcement informed us that due to cast illness, the role of Elle Woods would be sung and spoken by Dotty Evans, while the show’s Elle, Morgan Dunn, would still perform and lip-synch the role. Nobody in the present SMS company would be aware that in SMS’s 1982 production of West Side Story at the (then) Gaumont Theatre, the same thing happened with the role of Maria on opening night. (I know, because I was there!) It’s one mountain of a task to pull off, and I can only say that within minutes – if not sooner – I had completely forgotten the role was being vocalised from the orchestra pit, so absolutely perfect was the awareness and the synch between these two performers. Morgan Dunn is captivating and utterly adorable in her acting (and dancing!) of the central role, and Dotty Evans’ bang-on accent and terrific singing couldn’t – and can’t – be faulted. Together, they make the role something rather magical.

Dotty, in addition to this new unscheduled contribution to the show, is also responsible for the high-energy choreography, which is a constant joy to watch. She’s new to the SMS Production Team, as are Carrie Bellett, who has directed the piece with energy and flair, and Cerys May, the show’s Musical Director, matching the pace with a terrific band. The Company have clearly responded impressively to the team, with principals and ensemble giving their all, which is a great deal. There are some glorious roles in the show, not least that of Emmett, to which Rory Blincow brings pitch-perfect characterisation and singing, further establishing his impressive versatility as a performer – as anyone who saw his performance as the scrumptiously appalling Franklin Hart Jnr in SMS’s 9 To 5 will no doubt agree! Then there’s Paulette, who’s been dealt a pretty unfair hand in life, and here we have Katy Chalkley delivering another wham-bang performance, rich in classic American Musical Comedy technique as she goes from world-weary (in act one) to newly-energised sex-bomb (in act two), the latter thanks to Andrew Knight’s hilarious Kyle, the Delivery Man, whose opening line alone brings the house down, and whose performance is a clear audience favourite.

There are some less appealing characters in the show, both of whom are given strong and excellent characterisations by the actors who bring them to life. Kenny Adegbola’s Warner is a consistently compelling presence, whose vocals are another highlight of the evening; while Adrian Jones’ Callahan is commanding, faintly ominous… and whose true character (no spoilers!) is revealed in the second act.

Opening night contained a number of sound glitches (mics being muted and then turned back on resulted in a fair few lines being lost), an occasionally uncooperative (albeit attractive) set (which I’ve seen in at least two previous productions of the show); and an unnecessary park bench, which is awkwardly manoeuvred on and off, and which could easily be done without, given its brief overall stage time. But such niggles are small when measured against the overall enjoyment of the evening. With cheers aplenty throughout, and a roaring final reception, SMS may congratulate themselves on bringing this feelgood Musical Comedy to crowd-pleasing life. But in keeping with one of the show’s themes, I must issue them with a warning: big bouquets, please, for Morgan Dunn and Dotty Evans. Or you’ll be hearing from my legal representatives!