THE musical Legally Blonde has been a hit with Newcastle performers and audiences since its Australian premiere season in 2012, so it is not surprising that a Theatre on Brunker production of the show that will be staged from August 23 to September 14 virtually sold out weeks ago, with two extra sessions subsequently added.
Newcastle theatregoers flocked to the inaugural Australian presentation in Sydney seven years ago because two Hunter actors, David Harris and Ali Calder, had leading roles. And two productions of Legally Blonde: The Musical Jr, an adaptation for young actors, singers and dancers, the first by Pantseat Performing Arts in 2017 and the second by Bling Productions in 2018, wowed audiences.
The Theatre on Brunker season is the first Newcastle staging of the full-length version of the musical, which looks at the relationships between young people enrolled in a university law course, the tutors who are training them, and others they encounter, including a woman who runs a hairdressing salon and a parcel delivery man who helps people resolve their problems.
The musical is based on a best-selling novel and its popular 2001 adaptation into a comedy film. And the laugh-raising dialogue by Heath Hach and the music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin in songs such as Bend and Snap, which has female law students telling the hairdresser how to attract the man she would like to romance, have certainly put big smiles on the faces of audience members.
The show's title refers to a blonde girl, Elle Woods, played in this production by Megan Connelly, who is the high school girlfriend of Warner Huntington III (John Thomas), a self-absorbed boy who wants to become a lawyer because he thinks that will help him get the skills needed to be a successful government election candidate.
At the end of their high school graduation year Warner wins a place in Harvard Law School, and gives Elle the flick. But Elle, who is very determined, manages to talk her way into being a fellow law student. However, as things happen in life, both Elle and Warner find themselves in very different situations and relationships during their legal studies.
Emmett Forrest (Jon Murphy), a smart and quirky law student who has been given a part-time job assisting the lecturers, is attracted to Elle. And Vivienne Kensington (Alison Lancey), one of her classmates who becomes Warner's new girlfriend, is smart but very stuck-up, and takes diverse moves aimed at making Elle seem very stupid, so that Warner won't decide to resume his relationship with her.
The musical, interestingly, has just a handful of key adult figures, among them the pompous and manipulative law professor Callahan (Grant Bailey), hair salon owner Paulette (Jessie Allen-Berry), and adept parcel deliverer Kyle (James Bofinger).
Megan Connelly sees Elle as a battler, who is consistently underestimated and repeatedly put down by Vivienne. "She is very funny, but the underlying message about her is that you can't judge a book by its cover," she said.
Likewise, Alison Lancey points to Vivienne as being aware that law is a male-dominated industry, and determined to show how well women can do the legal action activities.
The underlying message about her is that you can't judge a book by its cover.Megan Connelly on her character Elle Woods
The show's director, Drew Pittman, said the actors in the large cast are aged from 18 to the 50s. And he's pleased that as well as having a large female ensemble, it also has a wide range of female characters - something that doesn't happen often in stage shows, which are generally male-dominated.
Annie Devine is the musical director of an offstage band, and Silvia Flores as choreographer.
Theatre on Brunker shows are performed in the theatre hall adjoining St Stephen's Anglican Church on Brunker Road, Adamstown. Ring the booking number, 4957 1895, to see if and when tickets are available.
SONG WISH LIST
DECLAN Dowling was raised on the Central Coast, but his performance skills came through when he was interviewed for a place at Hunter School of the Performing Arts and accepted.
And while he was still a student at HSPA he won the 2017 CONDA Award for Male Actor under 18 for his performance in the school's production of the musical Catch Me If You Can as an FBI agent trying to capture a con man and prove that he's a crook. The judges said he "showcased a skill beyond his years, with all sides of his performance presented in a unified, energetic and engaging manner".
Dowling has put together a cabaret, Songs I Wish I'd Written, that includes a mix of popular songs by well-known artists including David Bowie and less well-known songs from musicals such as Stephen Sondheim's 1994 show Passion.
The cabaret will be presented by New Arts Group Theatrical Company, an organisation Dowling founded, in association with Jopuka Productions, at The Launch Pad in Tuggerah on August 24 at 7.30pm (tickets: trybooking.com), and at the Hunter Theatre, at Hunter School of the Performing Arts on August 31 at 7.30pm (tickets: 4952 3355 ask for the cashier's office between 8.30am-3pm school days, or go to huntperfor-h.schools.nsw.gov.au. Tickets are $20 at both venues, plus a $17 concession in Newcastle.
Dowling is joined on stage by other performers - Finn Gough, Charlotte Cooke, Brigette Johnston - and accompanied by a six-piece band directed by Bronwynne Anderson. The director is Jopuka's Joshua Maxwell.