Friday, October 02, 2009

Legally Blonde: The Musical

If Gertrude Stein were alive today and had accompanied me to California Musical Theater's touring production of 'Legally Blonde,' she could have written her review quite succinctly: 'There's no there there.'

I genuinely like the 2001 film on which this musical has been based, and so was curious to see how the Reese Witherspoon vehicle would translate to the stage. Sadly, they got all the events of the movie, but none of its heart.

This play's fact sheet lists an entire paragraph of award nominations and minor awards won, and it was listed in the Top 10 for 'most requested Ticketmaster 'arts and theater events' for 2007.' But I suspect such interest came from people, like me, who liked the movie and were curious to see it on the stage.

This story concerns Elle Woods (Becky Gulsvig), a stereotypically vapid sorority girl whose signature color is pink. Her whole world revolves around her sorority sisters, clothes, hair, makeup, her Chihuahua Bruiser, and her boyfriend Warner (Jeff McLean), whom she expects to pop the question at any moment.

When Warner surprises her by confessing that it's time to move on to Harvard, get serious about becoming an attorney, and marry a woman who's also more serious, Elle sinks into a 10-day depression. This concludes when she decides that 'all' she needs to do is get into Harvard Law School and prove to Warner that she, too, has a brain.

And, as they say, hijinks and hilarity ensue. Sort of. I guess.

The show's music and lyrics are by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, and with very few exceptions everything sounds the same: not in an 'Andrew Lloyd Webber tuneful' sort of way, but more in a 'crank it up to 10 and wave your arms in the air' sort of way. The nearly six-minute opening number, 'Omigod You Guys' is a perfect example:

Omigod, this is happening;
Our own homecoming queen and king;
Finally she'll be trying on a huge engagement ring for size.
Omigod, you guys!

The two exceptions, however, are quite good. 'Blood in the Water' introduces Elle's Harvard teacher, Prof. Callahan (Ken Land), who dangles four internships in front of his hungry class. This is the first musical number that isn't sweetness and light, but instead a dark and sinister depiction of what it takes to be an attorney:

Blood in the water:
Dark and red and raw.
You're nothing until the thrill of the kill
Becomes your only law.

The second memorable number is 'Whipped into Shape,' which is set in a women's prison; it features some pretty fancy footwork with jump ropes in a dance number choreographed by director Jerry Mitchell, and featuring defendant Brooke Wyndham (Coleen Sexton).

The show also has a fabulous, stand-out chorus-line number, which I won't spoil by describing.

The cast also include D.B. Bonds as Emmett Forrest, a law student who takes Elle under his wing and helps her buckle down and actually study (and falls in love with her in the process).

Natalie Joy Johnson is a hairdresser, Paulette, whom Elle helps in many ways. Ven Daniel is outstanding as Kyle, a UPS guy who is the object of Paulette's affections.

A trial takes place as the story draws to a conclusion, during which some stereotypical gay sight gags continue far too long; I found them offensive, although the audience laughed uproariously.

On the whole, this isn't the best start for this season's Broadway Season. And there isn't nearly enough of Bruiser.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with your whole article! The Musical isn't a remake of the film - it's an appropriation meaning that it takes parts and reforms them, and I would argue that the Musical is even better than the film. The relationship between Emmett and Elle is explored more and the process of self discovery is better represented through the songs throughout the Musical. The songs are brilliant in their own right, not the best lyrics or melody but definitely catchy and memorable. Overall Legally Blonde the Musical was a brilliant performance!