Legally Blonde: The Musical (2007)
Golden Gate Theatre: San Francisco
January 23-February 24, 2007
Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell
Music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin
Book by Heather Hach
Legally Blonde: The Website
Legally Blonde: The Musical is hot and pink, a commercial for Broadway, all trashy, slick, pretty, fun, quick-moving, American Idolized, youthful and sarcastic. It hasn’t even made it to New York yet, but on view in a high-energy, still-being-tinkered-with production in San Francisco, Blonde stands poised to become the new Grease, iconic in a bubble-gummy kind of way. As a follow-up to the movie, Legally Blonde: (2001) starring Reese Witherspoon, (confession: never saw it) and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003) (never even heard of it), the stage version needs no introduction. However, even for those who saw neither film (that’s right) it’s a theatrical buzz, almost shockingly enjoyable.
The Broadway directorial debut of Tony-award-winning choreographer Jerry Mitchell, (Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) Blonde looks like the work of a dance guy—everything moves. Huge scenic changes happen faster than jump-cuts on MTV (thanks to the amazing work of David Rockwell). Mitchell knows all about selling a number, and this is a two-hour number—there are a huge number of cute, young performers hard-selling every second of this pink, song and dance whirlwind. Only the music, by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, fails to rise-up to Broadway classic caliber. Although the songs offer the leads plenty of chances to show-off their pop-style singing, nothing really sticks. “Ohmigod You Guys ”, for example, is a memorable curtain-opener, but as a dance, visually, not as a song you walk away humming.
Laura Bell Bundy, as the blonde-in-question, Elle Woods, comes off slightly older than the girls playing her sorority sisters. It’s no easy acting chore to create a ditz who could actually get into Harvard Law, and while Bundy gives good ditz, there is a hint of the heartbroken survivor to her even from the opening. Is it possible that so may ditzy blondes have been tragic figures in pop culture that we automatically feel sorry for them? Poor Anna Nicole Smith.
The trajectory of the plot of Legally Blonde, from campus one to campus two, calls for some filler, which comes with the introduction of Paulette, the very working-class Irish proprietress of The Hair Affaire, which becomes Elle’s asylum from the buttoned-down world she has entered. The storyline also offers a new love interest who is also “below” the rest of the Harvard set. Thus, a hint of theme emerges, a subtext if you want it, about elitism and class, although you don’t go very deep in a bouncey musical. Clearly, however, Mitchell finds the working class more fun, as all the best production numbers take place away from the classroom and courtroom. Refreshingly, the book here also steers away from the blonde jokes. If the Southern California, OC-style of caricature epitomized by Elle and Act 1 would seem the obvious target for spoofing throughout this musical (and they are), Boston and the Irish take their share of comic hits in this production, which offers welcome balance.
Legally Blonde: The Musical is a big ol’ hit.
Michael Wade Simpson