Theater review: Legally Blonde, The Musical

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I first caught Legally Blonde: The Musical by accident; I had one slot left during a New York theater jaunt in August, a notoriously slow month when many Broadway shows close before the new fall season. So on a sweltering weekday night, I spent the evening with 1,700 teenage girls and 39 gay men watching a high-energy, impossibly peppy adaptation of the hit film, in the expectation that I would abhor it. I mean, what could be more calculating as a business venture than taking a fluffy film geared towards tweeners and making it even more fluffy and geared towards tweeners? But to my surprise, the cleverness and theatrical savvy of Legally Blonde eventually won me over: yes, it’s silly and hopelessly cliché, with songs that actually argue that love can get you into Harvard Law School, instead of, say, bile or a surname of Kennedy. But it’s generally well-crafted silliness, with lyrics and a score that clearly exploit the medium and possibilities of theater, and which cram an impressive amount of narrative into 150 minutes of running time. The fun of Legally Blonde is watching creators Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin ring the changes on every possible permutation of musical comedy: from hip-hop and reggae, to power ballads, to faux-gavottes. (As if worried that they’ll never again have the chance to create a Broadway musical, they even throw in an entirely pointless parody of Riverdance.) Indeed, the whole evening is almost exhausting in its stream of dance sequences (choreographed with obvious glee by Jerry Mitchell). I wish I could say that the current non-Equity touring production is up to the standards of New York City, but it’s not even up to the standards of other touring productions; December’s tour of Nine to Five had weaker source material but a more polished physical production and cast. Legally Blonde’s set has been largely trimmed to four moveable columns and smaller rooms and doors, and several scenes are played against a strange twilight backdrop that looks less like Boston than the Gobi. (Opening night also saw a few technical glitches with the scenery and sound; the over-amplified band occasionally overwhelmed the voices.) As Elle Woods—the perky and oh-so-pink protagonist bound for Harvard and heartbreak—Nikki Bohne is pretty great: she’s a triple-threat actress with enough energy to power the bubble-gum spectacle all about her. While a Greek chorus of sorority girls nicely gets the job done, many of the other supporting roles were clearly written with older character actors in mind (that’s one of the perils of a cast mainly composed of recent college grads). I appreciated that many of the tunes were preternaturally catchy (in fact, I sadistically taunted my companion with the strains of OMIGOD, OMIGOD, YOU GUYS all the way home); nevertheless, the evening could use some trimming of its second act. So: Legally Blonde is an amusing, energetic musical that clearly shows its authors’ background in writing witty Hasty Pudding shows at Harvard, and which never flags (for better or for worse) in its go-for-break attitude. And unless I’ve missed something in the past ten years or so, I believe it features the first ever same-sex kiss on the Majestic Stage. (I swear I could feel the temperature in the auditorium drop ten degrees during the smooch. The patrons in front of me were not amused -- as if Legally Blonde had turned into Illegally Transgressive.) I wish the Majestic had booked Legally Blonde on one of its previous tours, when it was still an Equity production, but the present go-around still has plenty of—omigod!—zip. -Thomas "OHMIGODYOUGUYS" Jenkins, Current theater critic.

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