What to expect from Legally Blonde at Sunderland Empire

Legally Blonde, starring Lucie Jones. Photos by Robert Workman
Legally Blonde, starring Lucie Jones. Photos by Robert Workman
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Oh my god you guys – prepare for more pink, more glitter and more fabulousness than the film when Legally Blonde heads to the Sunderland stage.

The spin-off musical from the 2001 hit film starring Reese Witherspoon will hair flick its way to Wearside in April.

Stepping into the hot pink stilettos of fashionista-cum-lawyer Elle Woods is former X Factor finalist Lucie Jones, with former EastEnders actress Rita Simons as unlucky-in-love hairdresser Paulette Bonafonte, and star of Coronation Street and Emmerdale Bill Ward as the conniving Callaghan.

Despite not being in the sorority gang, Rita displays the sisterly sass which made her become a much-loved EastEnders fixture as Roxy Mitchell in the hit soap.

Much like Roxy, she imbues Paulette with a raw vulnerability which you can’t help but warm to as the brassy hairdresser with a big heart looks for love.

But what this role really allows her to do is to show off a brilliant knack for comic timing and a powerful singing voice in numbers such as Ireland.

It’s a real show-stealer of a performance. Hard to believe then, that this is her musical comedy debut.

Speaking backstage after the show in Edinburgh, Rita says she’s loving treading the boards.

“I love the story of Legally Blonde and it’s great when you have a good audience in,” she said. “Even when they’re quieter it keeps you on the ball and the more you get from them, the more you bounce off it.

“I think in TV it’s very self-satisfying. When you nail a scene on TV you just congratulate yourself. But on the stage you have an audience to tell you if you’ve done well and give you that applause, which is great.”

Bill Ward as Callaghan

Bill Ward as Callaghan

As a mum, Rita was well aware of the film and much like the PG rating of the silver screen version, this is a musical for all the family.

She said: “Kids love it. I have my own so I’d seen the film, it’s very similar to the original but they’ve thrown in even more pink and glitter.”

At the other end of the lovable scale is the slick-suited Callaghan, the professor with the wandering hands, played with swagger by Bill.

After his TV jobs, including playing builder Charlie Stubbs in Coronation Street, he’s no stranger to the baddie role and it’s one he’ll be playing in panto at Sunderland Empire this Christmas too.

In between curtain calls for Legally Blonde, Bill’s been learning his lines for Fleshcreep in Jack and the Beanstalk which opens next week.

Speaking last week, he said: “I got the panto script last week and then head straight into rehearsals next week. I’ve been trying to use my down time in the mornings for Fleshcreep. By chance, David Barrett who plays Emmett in Legally Blonde is playing Jack in Sunderland, so we’ve been practicing our sword and stick fights together with the Legally Blonde stage manager. It’s been good but you almost need to take your brain out and put it back in again to get your head around the two parts.”

Despite being well-known for his TV work, which also includes playing James Barton in Emmerdale, Bill is no stranger to the stage with a number of roles under his belt – and he says he’s enjoying being back in the stage spotlight.

“Legally Blonde is great fun to do, it’s very high energy,” he said. “It tells a real story too, a lot of the songs are plot-driven so the story’s really well told.

“It’s silly, but with a vaguely sensible subject matter at some level. It’s a great night out.”

Even Bill’s character can’t help but succumb to the perky positivity of the show and by the end even he’s looking pretty in pink.

Rita Simons as Paulette

Rita Simons as Paulette

This is a spin-off which ramps up the campness of the original with confetti cannons, disco balls and a gay or European scene that’s even more outrageously flamboyant than the film.

Also look out for an impressive skipping scene during energetic number Whipped Into Shape that left me out of breath and vowing to join a gym just watching it.

The feel-good storyline of being yourself and never succumbing to peer pressure may be verging on saccharine, but if that doesn’t win you over the dogs, handbag-sized chihuahua Bruiser and the more brutish Rufus, probably will.

Pink may be Elle’s signature colour, but this is a musical with a heart of gold.

•Legally Blonde is at Sunderland Empire from April 16-21. Tickets from Tel. 0844 871 3022