Animal actors steal the limelight in hit musical

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There’s one thing that director Mark Feakins is confident of as he prepares for the STOS Theatre Company revival of award winning West End hit Legally Blonde - the four legged stars will get the biggest cheers.

Even at the earliest stages of production it was the dogs who got the media attention, with a well aimed publicity campaign surrounding the search for a suitably starry Chihuahua and bulldog to play central roles of Bruiser and Rufus.

“I did have a dog on stage briefly when I directed Our House for STOS a couple of years ago but in Legally Blonde Bruiser the Chihuahua is an integral part of the story – and as soon as that dog walks out on stage nobody will care what else is happening,” Mark laughs.

“That’s why the dogs get their own bow at the end of the show – and they will get their own cheer.

“Our leading lady, Abi Weigold, will have worked her socks off for two hours and you can guarantee the dogs will get the biggest ovation – such is the joy of theatre!”

For anybody who doesn’t know about Legally Blonde, it’s the stage show inspired by the hit 2001 Reese Witherspoon Hollywood comedy of the same name which captures the adventures of sorority president Elle Woods as she crosses the States on a mission to find love at Harvard Law School.

And after discovering how her legal studies can be used to help others, she uses her new skills to defend a work-out queen in a murder trial, defying the odds and proving not only that blondes really do have more fun but that they can also save the day.

The original West End production – starring Doncaster’s Sheridan Smith - won seven major awards, including Best Musical of 2011 at the Oliver Awards.

But after the success of last year’s White Christmas – a spectacular revival of Irving Berlin’s snow festive favourite and an enormous hit for the company – Mark admits that a show like Legally Blonde is a different challenge.

“For a start, none of the songs have ever been massive hits,” he agrees. “There are no big stand-out ballads and nobody just stands and sings like they do in a show like White Christmas.

“But all the songs are integrated into the story and when you see it your foot taps all the way through because it’s a very high energy show, with some very funny songs.

“The songs may not be that well known, but once people know the show the album does become a regular on their i-pods.”

It might not be as celebrated as some great Broadway classics but it had a three-year West End run and then enjoyed a national tour.

And although the My Fair Lady brigade might not be so familiar with the piece, there is another audience desperate to see the adventures of Elle – and pet pooch Bruiser – live on stage.

“Talk to girls aged 15 to 25 and they will tell you the original Legally Blonde is their favourite film,” Mark says.

“The Reese Witherspoon film came out in 2001 and if you are under 40 you will know it.

“The stage version has a good strong story because it is taken from the film – it’s a modern day fairy tale with a good contemporary twist.”

Finding an actress who could replicate the magic of Reese Witherspoon or Sheridan Smith, however, was one of the biggest challenges facing Mark and his production team.

“The person playing Elle is a singer, a dancer and an actress,” Mark says.

“We had 10 people at the audition and they were all very good.

“We recalled three and really put them through their paces and that’s when Abi came up trumps. I can confidently say she’s going to be brilliant, a real star!”

For Mark, the real challenge is meeting the expectations of the story’s fans while delivering something with his own stamp on it.

“It’s a very fine line,” he admits. “In making it my own show I have added things, changed things and tweaked things.

“The show is full of fabulous dance routines and great humour as well as the odd tear-jerking moment so it has everything you could ever ask for in one night out.”

n The STOS Musical Theatre Company production of Legally Blonde: The Musical will run at the Lyceum, Sheffield, from November 17 to 21.