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.