Thursday, November 13, 2008

Legally Blonde

Cutesy ‘LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL’ entertains at Palace

Some shows are just meant to be entertaining…no great message, no deep thoughts, nothing but joyous fluff. ‘LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL,’ is such a script.

The musical, like the movie on which it is based, centers on Elle Woods, a blonde, seemingly ditsy California wealthy sorority girl whose fashion sense far exceeds her common sense. Well, that’s the illusion she gives off. When Warner, her boyfriend, dumps her for someone who is ‘serious,” Elle goes into action, and gets admitted to Harvard Law School (that’s where Warner is enrolled). Her eventual success, both in the classroom and the court room, are foregone conclusions. The lightweight plot takes us on her journey from blonde bimbo to blonde valedictorian.

Okay, maybe there is an underlying belly to the show…be true to yourself, stand up for your rights, and just because you are blonde doesn’t mean you are dumb.

The show was nominated for seven 2007 Tony Award nominations.

The touring production is directed and choreographed by Tony award-winning Jerry Mitchell (‘HAIRSPRAY’). The composer and lyricist are Laurence O'Keefe (‘BATBOY’) and Nell Benjamin (‘SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL’). The book was written by Heather Hach (‘FREAKY FRIDAY’).
The score, which includes “Ohmigod You Guys,” “Chip On My Shoulder,” and “Find My Way,” is catchy. Sprinkled in are some authentic show-stoppers including “The Harvard Variations” and “Bend And Snap.”

In an unusual move, while the show was running on Broadway, and before it went on tour, an MTV version of a taped live production from the Palace Theatre in New York was aired. The show reached more than 12.5 million viewers in its debut weekend. Carrying the connect with MTV further, a talent competition was held to find a replacement for Elle on Broadway. Several of the contestants are in this touring production.

The show has strong Cleveland connections in that Gina Vernaci, the Vice President of Theatricals for Playhouse Square, was involved in the evolution of the production. In addition, a group of ten local women partnered together to invest in ‘LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL.’ They attended the Broadway opening of the show.

The touring production is nicely paced. The choreography is good. The sets and costumes are fine.

Becky Gulsvig, who plays Elle, and was the understudy on Broadway, is good, but the part requires more….more sparkle, a fuller voice, a more compelling presence. She isn’t bad, but not up to the level of controlling the show. Jeff McLean has the right pompous attitude as Warner and sings well. Natalie Joy Johnson is delightful as Paulette, the manicurist turned Elle’s friend. D. B. Bonds is top-notch as Emmett, who helps Elle succeed and eventually wins her love. Ken Land, who portrays Professor Callahan, isn’t swarmy enough as the lecherous instructor.

The real stars of the show, at least based on the amount of applause they received, are Frankie (Chihuahua) and China (bulldog), two dogs that were rescued from shelters. (BTW…each of the pooches has an understudy!)

The orchestra often gets carried away and drowns out the singers. That’s a shame as the words to the songs are well crafted.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you like light-hearted musicals with excellent music and some good singing and dancing, you’ll be pleased with this touring production of ‘LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL.’