Review: “Legally Blonde, The Musical”

Feb 07

Merry musical `Legally Blonde’ dazzles and delights
3 1/2 stars Bright, shiny `Blonde’


(opened Feb. 6, 2007; photos by Paul Kolnik)

The opening number from Legally Blonde, The Musical is, like, really catchy.

So much so that the refrain, “Oh. My.God. Omigod, you guys,’’ bores into your brain and refuses to exit in a timely manner.

It helps that the song accompanies one of the liveliest opening sequences seen on a musical theater stage in quite a while. With expectations riding high, Legally Blonde shoots out of the gate like a prize, Prada-clad stallion and races toward that elusive goal of Broadway immortality.

That is the goal of every new musical, right? Some – like Wicked or Hairspray — even achieve it, to varying degrees.

The latest entry is yet another new musical based on a movie. Unlike last year’s vampire stinker Lestat, this one has blood pumping in its veins. And that blood is a bright shade of pink.

Legally Blonde, The Musical had its world premiere Tuesday at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre, where it runs through Feb. 24 and then re-opens at New York’s Palace Theatre in April.

For a just-hatched show, this Blonde is in awfully good shape, though (not to disparage blondes in any way) it doesn’t have a whole lot going on in its pretty head.

And that’s OK. Sometimes you just want a musical to shake its sparkles at you and make you smile. Rather than feel guilty about that, if the musical is crafted with a degree of skill and intelligence, you can sit back and enjoy.

That’s the kind of show Legallly Blonde is.

Except for that opening song and the title tune, the score by the husband-and-wife team of Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin treads the line of pleasant if unremarkable pop and disco with hints of R&B. There are cute numbers, like “Bend and Snap” and “Take It Like a Man” (an ode to shopping, naturally), but the songs just don’t soar.
Heather Hach’s book attempts to make characters more interesting than they were in the 2001 movie, which, frankly, isn’t much of a challenge. Reese Witherspoon was adorable, but the pleasures of the movie don’t go very deep.

Our heroine, SoCal sorority president Elle Woods (Laura Bell Bundy), has the kind of confidence you don’t often see in a protagonist. We catch her at a weak moment: her chiseled boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Richard H. Blake) has just dumped her because a man with his political games needs “less of a Marilyn, more of a Jackie.’’

Warner’s off to Harvard Law School, and rather than be a victim, Elle decides to follow him.
This means we get a massive production number called “What You Want’’ in which Elle’s a-poppin’. She eschews the standard admissions essay in favor of a marching band, a flag team and a stage full of people singing her praises.

Of course the ploy works, and once she’s admitted, she has many important lessons to learn about being taken seriously and allowing her considerable intellect to compete with her golden locks and designer wardrobe (vibrant costumes by Gregg Barnes).

The hero in all of this is Jerry Mitchell, the Tony Award-winning choreographer who makes his Broadway directorial debut with Legally Blonde.

What you see on stage at the Golden Gate is pure energy and heart. Mitchell and his cast light musical theater sparks several times, but the best number — and a welcome slice of sheer musical theater delight — comes in Act 2 with the unimaginatively titled “Legallly Blonde Remix.’’ David Rockwell’s busy set goes away, Ken Posner and Paul Miller’s lights flare up, and it’s just the cast dancing and singing up a storm, with a whiff of “Riverdance” and a lot of humor.

There are disappointments — like how little Michael Rupert as a cocky law professor and Kate Shindle (Miss America 1998) as Elle’s primary foe have to do. And the score continually promises more memorable things than it actually delivers. Where, for instance, is Elle’s defining, sing-it-to-the rafters number? The ballad version of “Legally Blonde” doesn’t cut it. What does legally blonde mean, anyway?

And the romance between Elle and Harvard teaching assistant Emmett (the charming Christian Borle) is still a few flames short of a blaze. It’d be nice if Emmett had a song that didn’t repeat the phrase “chip on your shoulder” until it hurts.

But then again, there are pleasures like Bundy’s cute-as-a-button Elle, Orfeh as sassy hairdresser Paulette and Andy Karl (Orfeh’s real-life husband) as the UPS guy who steals Paulette’s heart and nearly steals the show.

Though they’re more effective as valley-talking sorority sisters than as Elle’s only-in-her-brain Greek chorus, Annaleigh Ashford, Leslie Kritzer and DeQuina Moore ratchet up the vivacious quotient whenever they’re onstage. They help rev up the feel-good, girl-power motor that keeps the musical buzzing right along for more than 2 1/2 hours.

Legally Blonde, The Musical is a show that wants to delight our inner teenage girl. Not everyone has an inner teenage girl, but for those of us who do, omigod you guys, get ready to be tickled pink.

For information on Legally Blonde, The Musical, visit www.shnsf.com.

9 comments

  1. Peter Hall /

    yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! It’s a HIT!

  2. The Blonde has moved into the top 5 best musicals for me! The show is FANTASTIC!

  3. Drtheatre28 /

    Don’t say it is a hit yet…wait a few more days and then if the reviews are still good and the audience keeps pouring in (even if the rest of the reviews are bad), then say it is a hit!

  4. Fabulous review, and you even got a horse reference in. Guess I’ll have to break down and buy tickets for this show.

  5. We usually agree about shows, Chad — I don’t know why I’m so far off this time. I was there on opening night, and though there were some things I liked about the show, I was shocked (as I continue to be) at how much everyone seems to love it.

    Yes, there are a couple of really good songs and dance numbers (I thought the one that opens the second act was jaw-dropping). For the most part, though, I thought the lyrics and book appeared to be cleverer than they really were. And the storyline was even thinner (in most cases) than the movie, which is hard to do. Not to mention whatever proto-feminist message the movie had getting sucked out of the musical — in an attempt to give Emmett more stage time, he becomes Elle’s mentor rather than her figuring things out on her own like she does in the movie. At least Emmett gets a bit more character development in the musical. Plus, am I the only one who thought the sets looked kind of cheap? Sure, they moved like Broadway sets, but they just looked kind of crude to me. They reinforced the feeling I had during the first act that I was watching a high-school production that somehow was headed for Broadway.

    But the audience just ate it all up. (In fact, the audience kind of reminded me of a high-school-musical audience as well, one where a lot of the girls in the audience know the stars and squeal and applaud anytime the slightest opportunity arises.)

    Is the show really that good, or has the bar for out-of-town tryouts been set so low by disasters like “Lestat” and “Lennon” that anything resembling a polished production would make musical theatre fans swoon like they’re doing? What is it about this show that makes it so fabulous as a whole musical, as opposed to being just a show with a likable star and a few (admittedly significant) impressive moments?

  6. Legally Blonde, The musical is a Pink Bombshell! You’re going to Broadway, Baby!
    (more) beyondchron.org — Lee Hartgrave

  7. I loved Legally Blonde! It was great, great acting great singing great dancing. I loved everysong and thought for the most part they were all extremly well written. The book was very good, practicly every joke had pepole on there knees craking up! I have to give huge credits to Jerry Mitchel! The best part of the night was hering Kate Shindles voice practicly blow up the theater, shes a total powerhouse! The show was incrediabel and i hope it stays around for years to come.

  8. Reilly /

    I think Cheshire said it best: it had this feeling of a high school musical. The performers were excellent, as was the stagework and design, but I could not shake this feeling of shallowness from the show. The music was not particularly memorable and far too pop for my tastes; the only two songs that stuck out to me were “Blood in the Water” and “Is He Gay or European?,” and then perhaps the recurring “Omigosh You Guys,” simply because it was very annoying. In general, the show was trite. Entertaining, worth a few good laughs, but trite nonetheless. The movie did a far better job.

    My final recommendation is this: if you’re in the mood for a silly, light-hearted musical with few overarching messages, go ahead and see Legally Blonde. I enjoyed it, I admit. However, this is not the kind of show that will leave you thinking afterwards.

  9. belle /

    i saw it on Broadway last week an it was amazing i went in a group and none of us wanted to see it but our tour guide convinced us i say if you ever have the chance to see it even if u don’t like the movie you need to watch it because it was incredible and that says a lot because during the performance i saw Elles wig came off when she was bending and snapping and she forgot her line during the trial scene and yet i still loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  1. A Kinky kick in the pants | Chad Jones' Theater Dogs - […] the score, and Jerry Mitchell (last seen in these parts with the Broadway-bound Legally Blonde – review here) directs …

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