“a bunch of chaotic fun”

Directed by Samantha Wong, Legally Blonde was a bunch of chaotic fun. The first sign of chaos appeared when it was announced by VoiceOver at the start of the show that the role of Elle Woods would not be played by Eloise Richmond, as labelled in the program. Eloise had spent months preparing for the central role in a production that began casting in October and was, to all accounts, excellent. Reviews cannot properly reflect what the show could have been, nor the months of work that Eloise put into her performance, labelled in the programme as the “highlight of [her] final year.” The role of Elle was instead played by (the wonderful) Emily Phillips. Not even being the understudy for the role, who was also off, Emily had all of two hours to prepare hair and make-up, learn all the songs and memorise the blocking for this extensive, dance-heavy musical. What, like it’s hard? 

Emily did a fantastic job at this seemingly impossible task, much like Elle herself transferring from fashion merchandising to Harvard Law. With a fantastically clear and warm singing voice, she mastered the singing parts she had learned in this very short time period. With the show being essentially a sightread for the central character and a script being used throughout, the pace of certain scenes, some lines and whole sections of songs were naturally lost. However, I cannot commend Emily enough for her work. Cesca Horgan likewise stepped in brilliantly with two hours notice into Emily’s former role of Pilar, as well as her original role of Enid, picking up choreography at lightening speed as well as being a stand-out throughout. 

Even so, it is a wonder that the show did not cancel or reschedule its Wednesday performance. Musicals are the most expensive shows in student theatre due to licensing costs, meaning higher ticket prices; a standard ticket to Legally Blonde cost £8. The show was still great fun but undeniably and understandably rough. It seems bizarre that alternative options, such as transferring a Wednesday show to a Saturday matinee if possible or just cancelling tonight’s show, were not further explored, as well as unfair to cast and audience members alike. 

Nevertheless, we had a good time and everyone left smiling. Legally Blonde benefits from an immensely talented ensemble. Unfortunately, the choreography was messy in some group numbers, with actors looking to each other for guidance on the next step. Especially with a show that started casting in October, despite multiple recasts, I would expect a rehearsal process to allow for more confidence on stage, as well as the engagement of facial expressions during dance that comes with this. However, some of this may be because the actors couldn’t hear the music properly due to the faulty monitors. That said, choreographed by Eve Moore, I loved the dances for ‘What You Want’, ‘Whipped Into Shape’ and ‘There! Right There!’, which showed spunk and eye-catching movement. 

It is delightfully true for this production that “there are no small parts, only small actors”. Melissa Redman (and her wig) shone as a hilariously slow and chewing-gum munching millennial critique. Dorian Held made a gloriously showy appearance as the “gay and European” Nikos in my favourite scene of the entire show. As he waved himself with a pride fan and danced with Milo Anderson, who made a delightful flashy entrance of his own, the audience erupted into applause. Lucy Sallows, Lara Mulgrew and Cesca Horgan made a sparky and memorable Greek Chorus. Dorian Held was also a suave, hilarious Kyle, excellently leaning into Paulette’s vision of sex appeal. All of the ensemble should be congratulated for their hard work. 

Thomas Rainford also impressed as Callahan. Though he could have more authority in his role as a terrifying professor, his slimy portrayal of sexual harassment and quality of singing abilities were excellent; I grew to like this fresh portrayal more and more. Likewise, Henry Saunders excelled at the more idiotic, comic sides of Warner. I would have liked to see more of the cool, confident energy that defines Warner, however, his singing was immensely enjoyable and he should be proud of his performance. Likewise, Alicia Fielding made an impressively cold Vivian, while Clara Damman as Brooke shone in her dance number, sunny characterisation, and believable relationship with Elle. 

I cannot fail to praise the two probable standouts: Milly Wicks as Paulette and Olly Stanton as Emmett. Milly captured the stage in every one of her scenes. She sparked laughter at nearly every line as well as audience sympathy for her lack of self-esteem and horrific ex-boyfriend, who was also excellently portrayed. Although Ireland has historically been my least favourite song from Legally Blonde, it made the jump to my favourite in this production, performed with Milly’s gorgeous voice in a mutually heartfelt and hilarious manner. From a technical point of view, the change to green lighting whenever Ireland was mentioned was a genius move, perfectly designed by technical director Darcie DeFreitas. Likewise, Olly Stanton captured the essence of Emmett with his natural charisma and impressive singing, quickly becoming an audience favourite. A friend sitting next to me genuinely teared up during the Legally Blonde song, affected by Olly’s depth of emotion and expression. 

All of this occurred around a delightfully decorated set. Led by Jennifer Chang, the large art team must be heartily congratulated for the many flats they painted, which is rare to see in a college production. The backdoor in particular was used to great effect, which was a fantastic directing choice. Moreover, the costuming was impressive. Some props could have been improved, such as rough notebook paper being used for Elle’s pink scented resume. However, the dogs as stuffed toys were absolute highlights of the show, used to incredible comic effect; when one dog was accidentally dropped and bounced across the stage, my eyes teared up with laughter. Congratulations to Producer Martha Page, and Assistant Producer Nyasha Thomas for their work on the show, including beautiful posters and publicity posts. Hannah Raddings must also be commended for mostly smooth entrances and transitions. 

The live band was extensive and enjoyable. Musical Director Will Ahlert did his an impressive job of catching up the band to the singers during periods where they were mismatched, though more cueing to singers might have been helpful. Moreover, variation in volume could have been used to greater effect, such as a quieter beginning and crescendo during ‘Omigod You Guys’ in the library, while it was too loud to hear some without working or any mics speak at other points. Nevertheless, especially after only receiving a drum shield earlier this week, the band should be very happy with their efforts – they provided a professional underscoring that elevated the performance. 

The show struggled in its technical aspects. Mics were extremely patchy throughout, meaning many lines or sections of song were lost. The moving spot was wild. At some points, it really worked, directing a Hollywood-sense of attention; however, the adjustments in size and direction were often messy and it was also shakily pointed at the ceiling at one point. Moreover, although colour theory was often used effectively, there was an excessive tendency to transition to blue without any apparent thematic or narrational reason. Nevertheless, college tech is often a nightmare and the technical team, including Tech Manager Tomas Pickford, Lighting Engineer Thomas Sear and sound Engineer John Blewett, did well under these challenging circumstances. I admire their ambition, including the unusual rig in a college venue, colour changes and attempts with the moving spot, which were all clearly a positive addition to the production. 

Overall, TCMS’s production of Legally Blonde is an enjoyable musical with a superb cast, let down by the odd decision to perform tonight and a general lack of polish. I assume that these aspects will improve night-on-night and, if you love Legally Blonde, I would highly recommend a later performance.  

By Sophie Tice

Added edit, 01.03.22, in recognition of Eloise Richmond as ‘Elle Woods’

I was grateful to watch Eloise Richmond in her role as Elle Woods on the closing night of Saturday. Eloise had phenomenal stage presence, commanding the stage with wonderful pink ease, and lit up all the scenes she took part in with her impeccable comic timing. There is always a tendency with Elle to play her perhaps too oblivious, too ‘blonde’, as the title suggests, and Eloise refrained from this perfectly by bringing true sincerity to her interpretation of Elle. Thus, she mastered walking the fine tight rope of playing Elle’s sweet ignorance as an honest belief in all the other characters she interacts with, whilst maintaining the integrity of Elle as an objectified woman establishing her own authority. Eloise’s enjoyment of the title role was evident throughout the whole musical and it is always satisfying as an audience member to pick up on when actors are truly having the best time onstage. After a week that perhaps did not go as planned for the Trevelyan College Musical Society, I would like to extend a congratulations to the whole cast, crew and band who persevered through all the performances – a truly determined society. It was not obvious to me that Eloise had had nights off playing the lead role, which is a reflection of her professionalism and talent as an actor to effortlessly slip back in and adapt her performance. A true star, and a priviledge to see. 

By Florence Lunnon

Legally Blonde will be playing at Trev’s College until 26th February

Photo credits: TCMS