Sheridan Smith in Legally Blonde
(© Ellie Kurttz)
Sheridan Smith in Legally Blonde
(© Ellie Kurttz)
Legally Blonde: the Musical, now making its West End debut at the Savoy Theatre, seems like an unusual choice to hop the pond from Broadway to the West End. This screen-to-stage adaptation of the fairly unmemorable film is full of mostly mediocre material, but Sheridan Smith's effervescent and endearing lead performance lifts the show up by several levels.

Smith plays Elle Woods, a pink-fixated sorority girl who's dumped by her ambitious boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Duncan James), who tells her that he's looking for a Jackie instead of a Marilyn. (That means she's simply not serious enough for him and his political ambitions.) Stung by his rejection, Elle decides to follow him to Harvard Law School by winning a place there herself, a feat which apparently only requires a bit of last-minute cramming and the donning of a majorette's outfit to give a special presentation. Once at Harvard, Elle is mentored by the kind-hearted, corduroy-clad law student Emmett (Alex Gaumond) and is eventually picked as an intern by the imposing Professor Callahan (Peter Davison).

As she proved when playing Audrey in the Menier Chocolate Factory's production of Little Shop of Horrors, Smith can take characters that are perky and upbeat to the point of being irritating and make the audience care about them. Her Elle is sweet-natured and smart with an amiable, self-deprecating manner. Smith has spot-on comic timing, a versatile voice and enough charisma to carry the piece, which is fortunate as there's barely a scene where she isn't on stage. The other cast members do a decent enough job -- Gaumond's growing affection for Elle seems plausible, while James' Warner has suitably arrogant cheekbones -- but it's very much Smith's show.

With the exception of "Omigod You Guys," the infuriatingly catchy opening number for Elle's sorority sisters (who function as a quasi-Greek chorus), the music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin contain an awful lot of filler. Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell's production has only a couple of lulls in pacing, but otherwise whips along nicely.

While it's possible to get worked up about the show's numerous self-contradictory messages about women and ambition and its faintly distasteful hypocrisy about judging people by appearances -- the only sympathetic woman Elle encounters at Harvard is Jill Halfpenny's brassy nail technician Paulette -- the considerable enthusiasm of the cast and the infectious atmosphere puts enough sheer fizz in Legally Blonde to make those thoughts mostly go out of one's head.