By Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin and Heather Hach. Blackout Theatre Company. Director: Cierwen Newell. Pioneer Theatre Castle Hill. 30 September – 9 October, 2022.
Reviewed : October 1, 2022*
There are some great things happening in the arts in Western Sydney – as I keep saying – and this is yet another of them. Blackout Theatre came out of the COVID cloud with the NSW amateur premiere of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in 2021, a fine production of Chicago in May this year and now an equally fine production of Legally Blonde. If their aim is to get bigger and better, they are certainly achieving it! This production is very slick, very funny … and poignantly pink … just as it should be!
Few musicals highlight their messages as colourfully as this. Be true to yourself. Look beyond appearances. Keep faith. Trust. All these themes shine through in a production that is skilfully – and lovingly it feels – directed and performed. Pink may be the key – but continuity, characterisation, choreography, costumes and commitment colour this production just as vividly.
Director Cierwen Newell writes of the “family vibe” that grew during rehearsals, but it is the professionalism of the whole production, cast and creatives alike, that takes it beyond that ‘vibe’.
Newell has behind her an imaginative and talented creative team who have realised the possibilities that LED technology can bring to set design. With John Hanna, Adam Ring and LKR Productions, Newell created an array of background projections that set each scene, taking the cast from California to New York, from Harvard to Paulette’s beauty salon, from a courtroom to a caravan.
They are projected on to separate screens, the central one with a balcony reached by stairs either side, giving a variety of levels that are featured creatively in the blocking. Swift work by stage crew adds the minimal furniture needed to augment the scenes.
On this set, the cast work with energetic enthusiasm and spilt second timing to create the characters who sing and dance their way through 19 songs, some clever choreography created by Daniel Lavercombe, and a skip rope segment that really shows what “Whipped into Shape” can mean.
Front and centre in the production is Jordan Miller whose portrayal of Elle Woods is stunning in every way. Her character development, movement, voice, relationship with other characters and with the audience – all are strong and honed with care. But Miller adds to them a vibrancy, a chutzpah, that makes her Elle a little more defiant, a little more sassy … and feistily convincing.
Elle faces her journey from California to New York backed by her Delta Nu girls, the Delta Nu Trio – Daniella Delfin, Zohra Bednarz, and Amelia Caruana – and her parents, played by Blackout stalwarts Pamela Humphreys and Michael Robinson.
As Emmett Forrest, Elle’s mentor at Harvard, Cameron McCredie is staidly “crushed corduroy” as he watches, evaluates and carefully encourages Elle – and sings beside her in “Run Rufus Run” and of course, “Legally Blonde”.
Elle’s former boyfriend, Warner Huntington III is played by Luke Quinn, who makes Warner befittingly self-centred as he uncaringly dumps Elle in “Serious”, then becomes increasingly more self-aware as Elle’s confidence and intelligence emerge.
Fiona Brennan stepped in to replace Marika Zorlu as Paulette on opening night. This was unfortunate for Zorlu, but something we have grown to accept as the pandemic continues to affect the arts.
Anyone would relish playing this whacky, colourful character, but Brennan picked up the call on opening night and really found all the funny “bends” and “snaps” that Paulette injects into the show – including her attraction to the sexy courier, Kyle, played with tongue in raunchy cheek by Robert Hall.
Brenna Smith, as Brooke, leads the very coordinated Callahan and Company team as she “Whips” her way into the story … then into court with Elle as her trusted confidante and lawyer.
Adam Ring plays the pompous law Professor Callahan with Kate Staddon, Enid Hoopes, Jordan Anderson, Liam Vicari and Luke Quinn as his ardent acolytes. Their performances, with the company, of “The Harvard Variations” and “Blood in the Water” brings a different tenor to the production.
Matthew May and Damian Shahfazli have a few special moments as Nikos and Carlos. Alexander Irby is Grandmaster Chad; Koren Beale is the Judge; and Katie Griffiths the District Attorney.
It’s strange how dogs feature in musicals – especially considering how unpredictable they can be – but little Teddy, and not so little Rufus, make their short appearances as Bruiser and Rufus quite successfully, if, in Rufus’s case, rather quickly!
Videoed to the cast from another space in the complex, Musical Director Alvin Mak conducts the very accomplished orchestra. It was good to see a photo of them included in the program even though they can’t be acknowledged appropriately by the audience.
Legally Blonde is different! It’s fast. It’s loud. It’s cheeky. But it’s also powerful and defiant -just like Elle and her mates! Cierwen Newell has found all of that in this production. It’s as powerful as any professional production – and indicative of the talent, energy and creativity that drives this thriving western Sydney company.