Have you heard about the latest hot show on the West End? It’s “Legally Blonde.”
Yes, that “Legally Blonde.”
The London incarnation of “Blonde” has found allies not only among the ticketbuyers reportedly lining up to see the tuner but also — of all people — the Brit critics.
Topliner Sheridan Smith, playing sorority girl-turned-lawyer Elle Woods, won standout raves, and in general the reviewers admitted, sometimes begrudgingly, that they had fun. Charles Spencer actually began his review in the Telegraph with the word “Omigod!” in all caps.
The production bowed to positive buzz in San Francisco, where “Blonde” played a tryout run just prior to a Rialto stint that began in 2007. But for the most part, Gotham critics pooh-poohed the peppy adaptation of the 2001 MGM screen comedy.
Despite some unorthodox TV initiatives that helped boost the show’s national profile — including a full broadcast of the musical on MTV and a reality casting skein seeking the tuner’s replacement star — sales were never consistently strong enough to sustain the large-scale, pricey New York production, which closed after about 18 months without recouping.
“Blonde” has since found success on the road, thanks in part to a scaled-down staging that costs less to maintain. The London production, from a team led by trans-Atlantic producer Sonia Friedman, reps a combo of the Broadway and road incarnations.
“She’s taken the best elements of the tour and the Broadway version and put them together,” says Hal Luftig, lead producer of the show on Broadway.
Friedman, who fell in love with the musical when she saw it during Broadway previews, deemed it important to mount a production that didn’t require sell-out crowds to stay afloat. She also put “Blonde” in a smaller West End theater (the Savoy at 1,150 seats, vs. the 1,800 at Broadway venue the Palace) and made sure critics saw it with a paying audience during preview perfs, as opposed to the crowd of insiders who usually frequent West End press nights.
The critics, to be fair, raised their share of objections to the show. (“Let’s overlook some forgettable tunes,” suggested Benedict Nightingale in the Times.) But most of them dismissed their reservations because, well, they kinda had a good time.
So how come the unrepentantly breezy musical worked better for Blighty crix than for their Stateside counterparts?
Friedman says they all picked up on the wink and the nudge that goes along with the show’s silliness.
“I always believed the fact we were across the Atlantic would mean the piece would sit more comfortably for us culturally,” she adds. “It’s so much farther away and more glamorous for us, that world of L.A. and ‘Beverly Hills, 90210.’ “