BEND & SNAP Lucie Jones & Rita Simons plus company. Photo Robert Workman
On the day England played its first match in the World Cup, and just before tennis-fever takes over this corner of London, the town of Wimbledon has gone perfectly pink as Elle Woods and Co. arrive in town!
I caught the current tour of Legally Blonde the Musical – from the stable of UK Productions – nine months ago when it opened its account at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. As rehearsals were kicking off at the end of last summer we were lucky to interview the show’s three stars, Lucie Jones (who was about to be married), Rita Simons (fresh from Albert Square) and Bill Ward (Coronation Street and Emmerdale).
Months later, and with just Manchester Palace Theatre and a couple of weeks in Ireland to go, I dropped into New Wimbledon Theatre this week for the tour’s penultimate stop – and what a transformation! Not that I didn’t enjoy the production’s opening last September, but it just goes to show what nine months of sharpening, honing and perfecting can do when you perform in front of a live audience every night.
Of course, with our productions only lasting days, we amateurs only get a very small amount of time to take in audience reactions and tweak accordingly. But it’s still interesting that in such a short time-span you’ll always hear how by the end of a run, pace and performance has improved drastically. It’s quite satisfying to know that the pros, no matter how prepared they may seem from the ‘off’, are also only human and get better with time.
The performances at Wimbledon this week are nothing short of perfection where the entire company – from James McCullagh’s sublime 7-piece band in the orchestra pit, to backstage, to the all-important 23-strong cast – have completely mastered every single part of this musical. It’s fast, funny, full of energy, engaging and completely entertaining... and SW19’s audiences are lapping it up.
Starring in the dream role that “she could play for the rest of her life”, Lucie Jones is a sensation as the Delta Nu sorority queen who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard to just win him back. As well as physically trimming down and toning up over the past nine months (that’s what eight hectic shows a week can do for you!) I’m pleased to see that her blonde wig has now been suitably styled since those first Bromley shows.
Equally watchable is ex-EastEnder, Rita Simons, who may not have Jennifer Coolidge’s larger-than-life curves but has bundles of sass and, like Jones, apart from possessing a stunning vocal, also knows exactly how to find the comedy. When Paulette’s bulldog, Rufus, decided he didn’t fancy following the stage directions, Simons’ hilariously ad-libbed as she was forced to follow Wimbledon’s guest canine star-of-the-week around.
Even Bill Ward, who told me before the tour how much he didn’t fancy the dancing, has taken the role of Callahan by the scruff of the neck... the result of which is a very well-delivered opening number for the ‘baddie’ Blood in the Water.
Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin and Heather Hach have done a great job in adapting Amanda Brown’s novel into a stage musical and, under Anthony Williams’ full-on direction and choreography (co-choreographed by Dean Street), there’s not one tired scene. This talented company has to be strong right across the board and highlights include: Elle’s Delta Nu friends/Greek Chorus; Bend and Snap!; the no-room-for-error skipping-rope routine headed up by Helen Petrovna as Brooke Wyndham; Ben Harlow’s over-the-top UPS delivery man, Kyle/Brendan O’Boyle – who fits Paulette’s dream of finding an Irish hunk perfectly; and of course the whole, hilarious Gay or European? number and all that follows.
If your society has done Legally Blonde or may be thinking about taking it on at some point down the road you really ought to catch this show before it leaves London for the last time in the foreseeable future.
Legally Blonde the Musical plays at New Wimbledon Theatre until this Saturday, 23rd June before moving on to Manchester and then Ireland for its final weeks. http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/legally-blonde/new-wimbledon-theatre
L to R Flelipe Bejarano, Nancy Hill, Lucie Jones, David Barrett. Photo Robert Workman