Ohmigod, Legally Blonde the Musical
Never underestimate the power of blonde ambition. The charming Elle Woods from the 2001 cinematic confection Legally Blonde is back in her own imperturbably perky musical, fresh from a successful Tony Award-winning Broadway run and an unprecedented partnership with MTV (which aired the musical uncut last October to 12.5 million viewers as well as a reality show talent search to cast a new Elle) to tackle a national tour.
Elle Woods is a Delta Nu sorority sister most interested in party planning and her boyfriend Warner. Her ambitions of a future life as Warner’s wife are shattered when he dumps her on the night she thought he was going to propose, so in order to become the “serious” girlfriend Warner seeks she hits the books and gets admitted to Harvard Law. She must overcome a great deal of adversity along the way, much of it coming from people who assume that because she’s blonde and bubbly she must also be an idiot. The ultimate message is the classic “To thine own self be true,” and despite the far-fetched plotline it’s hard not to fall for this unflappable go-getter by the end.
I loved the film Legally Blonde. Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods had an innocent and infectious charm, and while the film certainly didn’t break any new dramaturgical ground, its message was positive and though frivolous, it was also fun. This was also the film that really first allowed Witherspoon’s high energy leading lady capabilities shine, catapulting her career into the mega-watt star she is today.
Becky Gulsvig captures much of the infectious charm and undeterred energy that Witherspoon gave to the role, even bearing a striking resemblance (particularly in the slightly scrunched face) and a freakishly similar voice. At times her facial expressions seemed a bit too wooden and her dancing too robotic, but her voice was strong and she was able to carry off the bubble gum pop princess role in a way that was sweet without being sickly.
The production celebrates all the camp that made the film so great in the first place: Elle’s bubble-headed Delta Nu sisters with bottle-blonde brains but sincere intentions, the over-the-top PINKNESS of the stage and Elle’s various ensembles (LOVE the boots she first enters Harvard with, btw). The stage often looks like a candy shoppe (that’s with an extra “p” and “e”) decked out for Breast Cancer Awareness month (which just so happens to be the month of October), but it suits the production well. The sets are not elaborate but change quickly and rather seamlessly from glossy California locales to stately Massachusetts courthouses and classrooms, and they all work quite well, save for the backdrop of a generic sky at sunset that is sometimes used when the characters are supposed to be indoors.
While it would be easy to attribute some of the notable hiccups to opening night jitters, this cast has been touring on this production for over a year and that hardly seems a fair assessment. The choreography leaves something to be desired, which is probably for the best anyway since a majority of the dancers didn’t seem very sure-footed. The singers vary in talent, though Megan Lewis as Vivienne Kensington proves to be the show’s sleeper when she belts out in a powerful voice that eclipses all the others towards the end.
The first act fumbles along with musical numbers that run minutes past the point they should have ended if they knew what was best for them and jokes that fall horribly, embarrassingly flat. The signature line from the film, when Warner asks Elle (his voice full of disbelief) “You got into Harvard Law?” and Elle replies with a cheerfully snappy, “What, like it’s hard?” doesn’t garner so much as a giggle from the audience. “Daughter of Delta Nu” and “What You Want”—which act as the replacement for the film’s montage of Elle studying and finally being accepted into the school—is a mess; chaotic, disorderly, and ultimately distracting. Particularly when the reason for her finally being accepted is “for love,” as opposed to for her merit as in the film which gave the story more integrity. Paulette’s romantic diversion “Ireland” goes on WAAAAAAY too long, and honestly could probably be cut out entirely. And the addition of Elle’s gaggle of sorority sisters as a “Greek Chorus” is wholly unnecessary and confusing.
But thankfully the production really comes into its own in the second act. The musical numbers are tighter, the jokes funnier, and the addition of a few key scene-stealing characters (Brooke Wyndham, as played by Courtney Wolfson; Nikos Argitakos the poolboy, as played by Constantine Rousouli; and Kyle the UPS delivery man, as played hysterically by Ven Daniel) completes what was missing from the first act. This is when the production finally plays up the savvy side of the story’s campiness, and injects some much-needed gay appeal. The number “There! Right There!” in which the cast questions “Is he gay or is he European?” injects smart cultural humor into the show and immediately becomes a raucous good time. From there it is all smiles for the “Legally Blonde Remix” and “Ohmigod You Guys” (Reprise), which had everyone cheering by the end. Ultimately it is fun, frivolous, and heart-warming, much like the film.
Oh, and I should probably also note: Elle’s chiuahua Bruiser and Paulette’s English bulldog Rufus, both trained by animal trainer to the stars William Berloni, will just simply melt your little hearts.
For fans of the film, some liberties are taken with the plot but most is plucked straight from the script. The spirit and message of the film is very much the same, though presented a bit differently. One adjustment I found particularly enjoyable was the deeper development of the relationship between Elle and Emmett, which is drawn out longer and includes more of them spending time together and falling in love. Though I think the biggest downfall of this musical is that it takes a 90-minute movie and turns it into a two and a half hour piece of musical theatre…damn near as long as Les Miserables. A tighter script and shortened (or outright deleted) musical numbers would serve this play very, very, like omigod totally well.
Legally Blonde the Musical can’t hold itself against severe critiquing but as a simple pink powder puff of musical theatre, it works just fine. It had me singing “Ohmigod, ohmigod you guys” for hours afterwards, and as they say in showbiz, that’s entertainment!
Legally Blonde the Musical plays at Detroit’s historic Fisher Theatre through November 1, 2009. Performances are Tuesday-Sunday at 8:00PM, Saturday matinee 2:00PM, Sunday matinee 1:00PM, with one Thursday matinee October 29 at 1:00PM and Sunday evening October 25 at 6:30PM. Tickets are $30-80 and are available at the Fisher Theatre box office or online at www.broadwayindetroit.com. Find out more about this national touring production at http://tour.legallyblondethemusical.com.