Legally Blonde - from screen to Norwich stage
PUBLISHED: 08:56 28 February 2012
As Legally Blonde the Musical hits the Norwich Theatre Royal stage, ABIGAIL SALTMARSH asks world-renowned Broadway director Jerry Mitchell what has made the film the latest to transfer into a smash hit on stage.
When Jerry Mitchell first saw the film Legally Blonde he left the cinema feeling like he had seen a musical.
So when he was later asked if he would like to both direct and choreograph the stage version of the show, there was not a moment’s hesitation.
“I was in Times Square when one of the producers who had acquired the rights to it saw me,” he remembered. “I was just coming off Hairspray at that point – and when he asked me if I wanted to do Legally Blonde, I said: ‘Absolutely!’
“I felt the film had moved in a very similar way to a musical. It was swift, exciting and didn’t waste time before getting down to it quickly. It had a larger than life character as its hero or heroine and a good strong story. It actually had lots of similarities to Hairspray.”
The story — made into a film that was released in 2001, and which starred Reese Witherspoon — focuses on a blonde student, widely believed to be relying on beauty rather than brains to make her way in the world.
Dumped by her boyfriend before he goes to Law School, she decides to follow him to Harvard and discovers she is a lot brighter and more capable than she has previously been given credit for.
The musical version of the tale opened on Broadway in 2007 to great acclaim. It was Jerry’s debut as a Broadway director but he also took on the role of choreographer.
Combining the two roles proved to be an out and out success — he went on to be nominated for both Tony and Drama Desk Awards for his choreography, as well as the Drama Desk Award for his direction.
“Being able to direct and choreograph at the same time made it a lovely job,” he admitted. “A musical is a hybrid – it is about the interaction between the writing, the music and the plot.
“In a way, choreographers are directors, just directors without text, so this was a natural step. But being given the opportunity to direct and choreograph Legally Blonde was wonderful.”
The UK tour of the show arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal on February 28. The lead role of Elle is being taken by Faye Brookes, who made her West End debut in Grease and has appeared in a wide range of other shows including Anyone Can Whistle and The Little Match Girl.
Former game show host Les Dennis plays Professor Callaghan and Dancing on Ice winner and Brookside star Ray Quinn takes on the role of Elle’s ex-boyfriend Warner. X Factor success story Niki Evans stars as Paulette.
“It is great to see the success of Legally Blonde as it tours in the UK, and comes to Norwich,” said Jerry. “The show is in great shape and I am so proud to have been part of it.”
Having set out on a career in dance and theatre from school, and graduating from a fine arts college, Jerry first made a name for himself as a choreographer with shows such as You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Full Monty and Never Gonna Dance.
Among other awards, he received the Tony, Drama Desk and Out Critics’ Circle Awards for choreographing the 2005 smash hit La Cage aux Folles and was nominated for Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics’ Circle and Astaire Awards for Hairspray.
Since the success of Legally Blonde, he has gone on to direct, choreograph and co-produce Peepshow, a Las Vegas extravaganza production show, and has choreographed Love Never Dies, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to his The Phantom of the Opera, for the West End and, subsequently, for Broadway.
He is currently working on the musical version of US television series The Honeymooners and is helping to develop Kinky Boots, also originally a film, for the stage, alongside Cyndi Lauper.
“I am really excited about both of these musicals. We should know if Kinky Boots has legs fairly soon and could see it on stage in 2012,” he said.
And he added: “For me, to really work, a musical has to have an amazing score, strong characters and a good storyline that audiences of today can really relate to.
“With Legally Blonde I did have a clear vision of how that could happen right from the beginning – and it is all those elements that have made it such a success.”
Legally Blonde the Musical, Norwich Theatre Royal, February 28-March 10, £35-£6.50, 01603 630000 or visit theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
MOVIE TO MUSICAL
Beauty and The Beast — The first Disney film to be adapted for the stage, it played for 13 years on Broadway but had less longevity in the West End, running for just over two and a half years.
The Lion King — One of the greatest Broadway and West End success stories, having performed to audiences since the late 1990s continually and opening in cities throughout the world.
The Producers — The Mel Brooks movie became a smash hit musical in 2001 starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. It ran for 2,502 performances, winning a record-breaking 12 Tonys.
Singin’ in the Rain — The stage musical based on the Gene Kelly movie opened in London in 1983 and on Broadway two years later. There it ran for 367 performances. It has just been revived in the West End.
Mary Poppins — Adapted by producer Cameron Mackintosh with Laura Michelle Kelly as the magical nanny. She won the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail — The 2005 Broadway musical Monty Python’s Spamalot was “lovingly ripped off” from the 1975 film. The show, with songs from Eric Idle, won three Tonys.
Shrek — DreamWorks took a leaf out of Disney’s book and added to the billions of dollars made by the four Shrek movies by bringing the big green ogre to theatreland too.
Ghost — Nineties romance Ghost has been adapted into a stage musical currently playing in the West End including the infamous ‘potter’s wheel’ scene.
Sister Act — Whoopi Goldberg produced the musical version of the hit movie about a disco diva who witnesses a murder and is forced to hide out in a convent. IT arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal in April.