Monday, October 15, 2012

Legally Blonde

Photo by Jeff Busby

Howard Panter for The Ambassador Group and John Frost in association with MGM ON STAGE, Darcie Denkert and Dean Stolber present LEGALLY BLONDE. Music and Lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Book by Heather Hatch. Based upon the novel by Amanda Brown and The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Motion Picture at the Lyric Theatre, Star City.

LEGALLY BLONDE is a musical I caught in London a couple of years ago . I saw it in the beginning of its long season (see my post on that production here). It was a great, fun couple of hours. It was divinely silly: OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS. If you don't believe me, you have to trust me.

This Sydney/Australian production has all the same ingredients, writing - music, lyric and book, production design and choreography, and for the audience I saw it with, it was an energising couple of hours spent. What it doesn't have, ingredient wise, is a consistently first rate cast. The depth of talent is depressingly shallow - read the program biographies. I did enjoy the chutzpah and bright skill of Helen Dallimore in the second banana role of Paulette. David Harris as nice guy, Emmett Forrest, was also top notch.

Comparisons are odious, of course, BUT, for my money the rest of the company, and that includes Lucy Durack as the heroine, Elle Woods, are simply demonstrations of Australian Musical Theatre competence. For example, just what musical theatre quality other than, sun glowing good looks and height did Cameron Daddo have to secure this role? His first song "BLOOD IN THE WATER" seemed remarkably strained and on the cusp of his ability.Maybe, I just caught him on an off-night? for he has the job, and, so, he must be the best actor available in Sydney to play Professor Callahan. I do, however, recollect the wit, elan and marvellous elegance of Peter Davison in London in the same role. But, even the dogs in this production seemed to lack the oomph needed, although there were still many an "OOOH" and "AHHH" on all their appearances. Good, commendable but not really special.The company hit the mark needed to deliver efficiency: drilled, drilled, drilled to within an inch of their skills, but, they just never took off. This musical is really silly, and to consistently go along with it, as an audience, it requires that extra edge. This souffle of a musical never rises too high with this production. The recipe of this show just does not have the same quality of "produce", the ingredients of the London outing - and, there, is the difference.

It is, of course, that X Factor, that star quality, talent that makes the difference. Some might say, and I have experienced it professionally, sometimes, but rarely, sheer guts as well can get you up to the mark - consistency becomes an issue then, of course. Ms Durack, who I saw as Glinda the Good Witch in WICKED and was partially impressed by, even though her voice sounded cracked and frayed, just does not have IT, the X factor, in this role. Sheridan Smith in London was a stratospheric knock-out. Delicious, funny, affectionate, light hearted and just so skillful in every demand the role requires. Ms Durack just looks and sounds out of her comfort zone, even her clothes do not look right, especially the supposed straighter corporate ones. The eyes of this performer do not have the glow of a confident artist, let alone the spunk of Elle Woods!

I recommend a documentary EVERY LITTLE STEP (2008) which covers dancers/actors struggling through auditions and rehearsal for the recent Broadway revival of 'A CHORUS LINE'. I was amazed that in this documentary, every performer was auditioning, yes, auditioning, at Opening Night skill and energy. It struck me that the competency level of all these artists at the aspirational, pointy-end of Broadway, was far superior to any production that I have ever seen in Australia (bar, perhaps the Australian HAIRSPRAY, JERSEY BOYS) I was gob-smacked and wondered, ridiculously, just what they had to rehearse to get the actual performance better. I did acknowledge that these artists were entering at Level 8 or 9, in their field of endeavour in New York, and what was expected to get a job, make a hit in the competitive and expensive Musical Scene on Broadway was a 10. To get to level 10 from 8 or 9, one would have to be potentially amazing! A possible 10, strutting all the gifts. It is a fine line between good and great, but it is a line. It is an Olympian stratosphere, only gods should approach and can survive in. Watch that documentary carefully, for one will see the subtle differences between star quality and the also-rans at that level. Most of the performers in this production of LEGALLY BLONDE were, may be level 6 or 7, in my estimation. Based on my musical theatre observation over many years, in many different countries.

Now there are undoubted stars in Australian Musical Theatre of true stellar  X factor quality but the range of talent, in any one production is, always extremely disparate in standard on our stages. This is in direct comparison of the first rung Broadway and West End Musical Theatre I have seen, generally. The London production of LEGALLY BLONDE, in its opening week, which is when I saw it, made it a must see and share experience.

I know so many Australian musical theatre aspirants and I am simply asking, challenging, what their approach to the instrument development and maintenance is - for, on observation in this Sydney production, it does not seem to be enough.

LEGALLY BLONDE at the Lyric Theatre is fun but just not great enough to have me bounce out of the theatre as I did in London and say, unequivocally, see this show. If you have no way to compare productions this will please you, but if you have, this LEGALLY BLONDE is little more than, OK.

P.S. Interesting that the production photographs in the Program are courtesy of the UK Tour Production 2011 (Johann Persson) and not the Australian production???? The souvenir buyers will be disappointed, indeed, if they have a favourite artist!

I just read in the paper, the smh 15th October, that "We've had 200 people a night at the stage door. That's absolutely extraordinary." - Howard Panter. Not so extraordinary, really, when you publicly announce over the theatre sound system, before the show begins an invitation to do so! In this celebrity driven culture that is like throwing fresh raw meat to invite the lions to enjoy themselves. All those young girls with their mums and all the show themed 'loot' on their arms just might enjoy a touch or autograph from the performers, to top the night - despite the program production photographs.
I wonder do the actors get a bonus for connecting at the stage door - is it part of their contract or not ... their show may not finish for hours after the curtain fall at 200 deep to press through to get home ... or can they get home through a secret passage?


Andrea Moller said...

Hi Kevin. I wonder if you will remember me from NIDA days. I just stumbled across your blog, and am thrilled to find it. I loved your comments about Legally Blonde. While I haven't seen that production, I saw Les Mis in Perth a few nights ago and your comments articulate much of what I felt about this production. I am sad to read what you say about Lucy Durack because she was just hair-back-blowingly good in Wicked. I hope LB comes to Perth (which is where I now live) so I can see it too. Thanks for this blog, its an invaluable resource. I hope you are well and am sending love. Andrea Moller

Olivia Charalambous said...