Review: Six Writer Lucy Moss Directs an Outdoor Production of Legally Blonde
If a venue has hired a Six co-director, a Waitress musical supervisor, and a Matilda movie choreographer to stage their next snazzy show, which happens to be penned by a Heathers co-writer, it's pretty obvious which target demographic they're aiming for – the Insta-crazy, bootleg-swigging, TikTok-tagging audiences of tomorrow.
That's another way of saying London's Regent's Park Open Air Theatre is trying something new for its 90th anniversary. Famous for taking well-worn classics (Evita, Carousel, Seven Brides) and adding an extra bit of spice (lest we forget the glitter-whipping in Tim Sheader's Jesus Christ Superstar) this departure for the venue is relatively exciting: a heartfelt recognition that to get through another 90 years, every so often your venue has to go all-in on a near suffocatingly pink aesthetic, candyfloss cocktail menus, and quirkily colored pizzas.
If that's all starting to sound a bit kitschy, then you might be one of the Open Air regulars that will have instantly dropped Legally Blonde in the "not my cup of tea" pile, the type of folk that just want a hearty dose of R&H against the slowly fading glow of the evening light. This isn't a show for those sorts of people. They'll probably get business as usual for the 91st season.
What Legally Blonde is, without a doubt, is a hoot. Heather Hach, Laurence O'Keefe, and Nell Benjamin's stage version of the novel by Amanda Brown (and the cult classic movie featuring Reese Witherspoon) follows the plot of the film: Blonde-haired Californian follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School in the hopes of winning him back, only to discover she's something of savvy advocate herself.
In another world, the show is a tongue-in-cheek nod towards the presumptions around ditzy white-woman privilege, with a ladle-full of earnest girl-boss early '00s feminism. Moss, in a masterstroke, takes things a mighty leap forwards, packing the show with diversity, body positivity, and intersectional solidarity. This is a cast of all genders, sizes, and backgrounds. It revels in the sheer variety it offers.
Recently bagging herself a Tony nomination for co-directing the all-out global phenomenon histo-remix musical Six, the co-director has to face a few new challenges here (like, for example, scene and costume-changes). They're tackled with assured confidence. Moss pares everything back with a blank (admittedly very, very pink) canvas against the Regents Park trees. Unlike the award-winning original production, which stuffed the stage with the garish lavishness of Elle's entitlement, here the cast has to convey individuality through performance, costume, and by mining the text for its comedy gold – which thankfully is there in spades ("Gay or European" number "There! Right There!" is as good as anything Sondheim ever did — there I said it!).
The team has also decided to zhoosh up the dialogue and place it firmly in the now – TV screens replaced with TikTok streams, while the three syllables of M-T-V are ruthlessly cast aside for In-sta-gram in "Whipped Into Shape".
There's a stellar cast in tow: Courtney Bowman is onstage for almost the entire show and provides an adept, no-nonsense Elle capable of raising a perfectly tweezed eyebrow at the pretensions and pugnacity of Harvard. She is surrounded by a company on top form – especially Lauren Drew in the show-stopping Act 2 opening number.
There are some fun Six nods for any fan of Moss's work (it helps that no fewer than three of the principal cast have gone from a Tudor court to a Boston courtroom) and, while the show most definitely takes a few numbers to get going – the crucial opening few lines in "Omigod You Guys" lost in some underpowered sound design – there's a bona-fide production ready and waiting to head to the States.