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Review: Legally Blonde at Liverpool Empire ****

They say you should never work with children or animals – but this effervescent Empire Youth Theatre production of hit musical Legally Blonde would easily stand as exhibit A in the case proving the exception to that arbitrary ruling.

Not only does it have two excellently behaved animal performers playing the key canine roles of Bruiser and Rufus, but it’s packed with talented teenagers who approach their work with evident professionalism along with cast who are currently on the cusp of professional careers.

The theatre’s youth company last staged this tale of one woman’s physical and emotional journey from fashion-forward Malibu sorority queen to East Coast budding legal brain in 2015.

And I understand Ellie Clayton, that earlier production’s Elle Woods and now a London-based actress, swung by rehearsals for this latest show to offer a few words of wisdom and support.

Erin May, the 2023 cast’s Elle, has just graduated with a musical theatre degree, and reveals herself to be a strong singer and dancer with plenty of stage presence.

The 21-year-old delivers a fizzing performance as the laser-focused, relentlessly optimistic - albeit slightly goofy - force of nature who descends on Harvard Law School to try and win back her preppy ex Warner Huntingdon III (Jack Wright who has a fine singing voice and embraces his idiot baddie role with charm) and finds herself on the receiving end of a whole caseload of snobbery, sexism and general patriarchal claptrap.

Above: A slideshow of production shots by Phil Tragen. 1. Libby Sunter as Paulette and Erin May as Elle. 2. Brooke (Rosa Taylor), Warner (Jack Wright), Enid (Grace Hunt), Vivienne (Olivia Abbasi) and Emmett (Joe Harris). 3. Emmett and Elle.

While Elle may be the titular ‘Legally Blonde’, the musical offers a number of great parts for women. And there are lots of very enjoyable performances including Grace Hunt’s right-on Enid, Jessica Jane as Delta Nu Serena, and particularly Libby Sunter who is a class act as downtrodden beautician Paulette who dreams of being treated like a queen by a man from Ireland.

Meanwhile Rosa Taylor as fitness guru-turned-murder-defendant Brooke leads her fellow jailbirds in an impressive skipping rope-wielding Whipped into Shape, one of a series of creative big ensemble dance numbers from choreographer Laura Meeson.

While the story is sorority-centred, the youth theatre’s male cast also get a chance to showcase their talent – Joe Harris is a calm foil to Elle as the earnest and kind Emmett, Tyler Delaney brings a certain smooth urbanity to Professor Callaghan and Cian O’Riain is an absolute delight as UPS delivery guy Kyle O’Boyle.

Above: Whipped into Shape - Rosa Taylor as Brooke Wyndham. Top: Erin May as Elle with her Delta Nu sisters. Photos by Phil Tragen.

Legally Blonde is as bubbly and driven as its heroine, and this production has plenty of brilliant bend and snap about it, although on opening night the adrenalin-fuelled energy unleashed by a large cast evidently champing at the bit meant the first half felt somewhat frenetic.

Just reining back a fraction and giving the piece more breathing space would help make sure its witty lines – and at times tricky melodies and key changes - aren’t lost in a musical maelstrom.

The second act by contrast was smooth as the proverbial silk, with much fun to be had in its slyly funny courtroom scenes, not least those involving Rubin Cavanagh’s pool boy Carlos.

The short run is deservedly all but sold out, but if you can still get a ticket then it’s a chance to catch some future British musical theatre talent in action.


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