Lorelei Lee, the platinum haired gold digger, has resurfaced in the musical production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Union Theatre. Originally a 1925 novel written by Anita Loos, its versatility has led to a silent film, a Broadway musical, but perhaps most memorable is the iconic 1953 film starring Marilyn Monroe in the lead role, alongside brunette Jane Russell, writes Carolyn Hart Taylor. 

Slick as this 2019 production is, the theme of a beautiful blonde, scheming female hellbent on securing herself a wealthy man while scorning friend Dorothy for ‘finding the only bootlegger that didn’t have any money’, felt uncomfortable. In recent years, we have seen increasing adaptations of theatre productions, their purpose being to provoke us to question stereotypes – think Shakespeare and all those amazing reworkings, but not so in this age-old stereotype of the dumb blonde. I couldn’t help wondering why! 

While some productions are best left in their original format, alongside the countless updates, the lead character, Lorelei Lee, though played amazingly well by Abigayle Honeywill appears glaringly ripe for a reworking. In fact, parody becomes the only way of legitimising her role, and that’s really just skirting around the blonde in the room.

Cast members, including Lorelei, (renamed in court by the judge to represent lotta lies…) did exceptionally well, performing songs and dances worthy of much bigger venues. In fact, they did a grand job of executing dances that incorporated acrobatic moves, in a very limited space, whilst still looking the height of sophistication. Recognisably famous numbers featured, such as Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend and Bye Bye Baby, all sung superbly. 

Being a musical with so many numbers to perform there was a sense that the story got lost amongst the speedily changing scenes. Backing up the story, though, were the detailed flapper girl costumes and general 1920s iconography rooting it firmly in its time period. 

Puzzling, well performed, but full of possibilities! 

Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London, SE1 0LR until 26th October. Times: Tuesday – Saturday 7:30pm; Saturday & Sunday 2:30pm. Admission: £15 – £22. Phone: 020 7261 9876


Photo: Mark Senior