Cast of Legally Blonde on feelgood fun and four legged co-stars as hit musical comes to Norwich
- Credit: Robert Workman
Legally Blonde has made the successful switch from hit film to hit musical. As it arrives in the region, Bill Ward tells Simon Parkin about switching from dark roles to the feelgood show and sharing the stage with two four-legged cast members.
'As far as I'm concerned, variety really is the spice of life!' says Bill Ward of how he came to swap playing Det Supt Roy Grace in Peter James' Not Dead Enough for the complete opposite end of the theatrical spectrum with Legally Blonde.
The change would not have been more extreme for the Coronation Street and Emmerdale star as he stepped from the dark crime thriller into the feelgood musical, which comes to the Norwich Theatre Royal next week.
'It is an awful lot of fun,' he laughs about the hit show, based on the 2001 Hollywood comedy that starred Reese Witherspoon. 'It sets out to enjoy itself and it is pretty successful at it. Great songs and it is very funny. Lots of singing, lots of dancing. It is a proper feelgood show.'
There is no shortage of films that have made the leap into musical theatre, but Legally Blonde has been amongst the most successful, notching up seven Tony nominations during its Broadway run, while in the UK it was nominated for five Laurence Olivier Awards.
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This latest production stars last year's Eurovision UK representative Lucie Jones, whose musical credits include Rent, Les Mis, Ghost and We Will Rock You in the Reese Witherspoon role of Elle Woods, with Rita Simons, best known as Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders, as Paulette Bonafonte.
Bill, who case to a nasty end as both the villainous Charlie Stubbs in Coronation Street and Emmerdale favourite James Barton, plays the role of Professor Callahan.
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'He is a bit of a nasty piece of work,' he explains. 'Even feelgood shows like this one needs a villain. He is the Head of Law at Harvard Law School where the majority of Legally Blonde is set.
'He is an extremely clever, power mad lawyer. He is in charge of the law faculty and also a partner in his own multi-billion dollar law firm, one of the most successful in the country. He is a very clever man but he is essentially in love with his own intelligence.
'He wanders around pontificating. I'm not going to give too much away about what happens but he is not particularly well behaved, I will say that. But from an acting point of view he is great fun to play because he is in love with himself and with those types of characters it is always interesting trying to get inside their brains and what makes them tick.'
Like the film the show revolves around college sweetheart and seemingly ditzy homecoming queen Elle Woods. But she is the kind of person won't take 'no' for an answer. So when her boyfriend dumps her for someone more serious, she puts down the credit card, hits the textbooks and heads for Harvard Law School – without so much as smudging her nail varnish.
Bill admits he has deliberately avoided seeing the movie but has instead read the 2001 novel by Amanda Brown that inspired the film, even though his character Professor Callahan doesn't actually appear in its pages.
'All actors are different in this regard. Some of the cast have watched the film and some of us haven't. I tend not to if I can avoid it just because you don't really want to borrow someone else's performance,' he explains.
'Callahan doesn't actually exist in the book but what is interesting is that there is four or five law professors and it is very clear that Callahan is a composite of all of them. He has character traits of all of them.
'Going back to the book you also get lots of prose and descriptive passages which you obviously don't get in a script. So that is very helpful just for giving you a sense of the feel for the piece. However from having spoken to a people who have seen the film it is pretty faithful to the film. So if you only know the film, you'll love it.'
The show features a host of new songs. 'It is pretty musically driven but there is also a strong story element running through it,' adds Bill. 'Elle Woods, who is played by Lucie Jones, who is brilliant, falls in love with a clever young man who goes to Harvard.
'She is also very clever in her own right but in a different field, she has a degree in fashion merchandising. So she follows him to Harvard and to everyone's surprise she gets in and does extremely well, but in her own very specific way and with lots of very unexpected consequences.
'The drama of it is a love story at one level but on loads of other levels it is about how you and achieve all sorts of things if you set your mind to it and try hard enough. There are lots of feelgood morality tales in there.'
Bill is no stranger to musical theatre with West End stage credits including Johnny in Viva Forever and Sam Phillips in Million Dollar Quartet, but Legally Blonde does include a first for him — sharing the stage with two four-legged co-stars.
As well as its human stars, the show has two scene-stealing dogs: Elle's Chihuahua called Bruiser, and Rufus, a dog that only its mother could love.
Bruiser is a permanent member of the tour, but each theatre on the tour casts its own Rufus: at Norwich Theatre Royal, it is Winston the bulldog, owned by James Madden and Rhonda Dunthorne from Hainford.
Two dogs on stage is surely a recipe for things to go wrong? 'Oh yes and they frequently do,' laughs Bill. 'They are often not under control. You can hope that they will do the various things that you want them to do but they will often end up doing whatever they want to do. When that happens there is not a lot you can do about it. Rita [Simons] is in charge of the bulldog quite a lot of the time and it is often not well behaved at all. The bulldog often steals the show. It great fun to watch!'
• Legally Blonde is at Norwich Theatre Royal from March 26-31, 7.30pm, 2.30pm March 28/31, £40.50-£8, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk