West End producer Sonia Friedman admitted she fell in love with the musical adaptation of Legally Blonde when she saw it on Broadway and immediately asked the creative team if she could transfer it to London.
The producer, who is normally known for presenting plays and revivals rather than musicals, was speaking at Café de Paris today during the launch of the London production of Legally Blonde The Musical, which begins performances at the Savoy theatre in December. “That’s why I’m doing this show. Bottom line, I loved it. It made me happy, it made me smile; I came out with a real spring in my step.”
Based on the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde The Musical is a modern fable about being true to yourself, which tells the story of homecoming queen Elle Woods, who decides to apply for Harvard Law school after being dumped by her boyfriend for someone more serious.
Though the film is a romantic comedy known for its abundance of pink, big hair and small dogs, Friedman stressed that the musical adaptation would have a widespread appeal. “Men love it,” she said. “They won’t admit it, but whenever I’ve seen this show on Broadway, the people who come out with the biggest grins are the middle-aged men.”
Peter Davison, who stars as Professor Callahan in the show, confirmed this when he told Official London Theatre: “While I loved the film, I do feel that the musical version has elevated it. It was almost as though it was begging for a musical score, it was the kind of script that you felt maybe someone had taken the songs out of.”
Davison, who was last on stage as King Arthur in Monty Python’s Spamalot but who is better known for his years in television drama, said he never saw himself as a musical theatre actor. “In my insecure moments I feel I am punching above my weight, but it’s a challenge and that’s what drives you on,” he said.
“I was talking to the Musical Director and he said ‘well don’t worry because you don’t get to dance’, which I was relieved about.”
Davison, along with co-star Jill Halfpenny, who plays Paulette, join the growing ranks of actors better known for their dramatic work who are turning to musicals. “I think part of the reason is that there has been a shift, you know, and I’m aware now that directors are more keen on getting people who can act the part, than necessarily people with the most fantastic voices. There are of course people who can do both brilliantly, but… if you get an actor to do this, no matter what you’re going to get a convincing performance.”
Star of the show Sheridan Smith, who plays Elle, is also best known for television work including Six Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, Gavin And Stacey and The Royle Family. Though she received a Laurence Olivier Award-nomination for playing Audrey in Little Shop Of Horrors in 2007, Smith now leads a show which requires her to sing 16 of the 18 songs in the score, a considerably larger proposition. “I’ve had to have some singing lessons and I’m having a personal trainer, which is absolutely ridiculous, because I am honestly the laziest person and get a stitch walking to the car, so this is quite a big ask for me,” she said. “But it’s good, the director’s [Jerry Mitchell] brilliant, from America, but very strict, so he’s getting my ass in shape. It’s great to have something to work towards and challenge yourself.”
Though Smith admits she is not a fan of pink – “I’m really the opposite, a bit tomboyish” – she said she asked to be seen for the role of Elle after seeing the Broadway production. She described the chance to play the tenacious leading lady as a once in a lifetime opportunity. “Most leading ladies in musicals are sopranos…but this one particular part was kind of the only one I could probably get away with, so the fact I’ve got it, I’m just going to give it my all every night and just enjoy every minute.”
“And,” she added, “I get to snog Duncan James! That’s even better, that’s the icing on the cake!”
James appears as Warner in the musical, while the principal cast also comprises Alex Gaumond, Aoife Mulholland and Susan McFadden.
Legally Blonde The Musical begins previews at the Savoy theatre on 5 December and has a press night on 12 January.