Theater review: 'Legally Blonde' at the Pantages Theatre
Who knew? The musical “Legally Blonde,” based on Amanda Brown’s novel and the 2001 film, has engendered a sort of … cult. Opening night at the Pantages on Friday was awash in a sea of pink, from toddlers in pink princess togs to mature women in rosy designer ensembles. Whether you think that Elle Woods, the fashion-conscious (and, of course, blond) heroine of the piece is a fortunate role model or not, the festive celebration of the feminine was oddly moving.
Why does “Blonde” strike such an atavistic chord among women of all ages? Of course, an MTV airing of the show and a subsequent reality show didn’t hurt, but considering that many of the play’s younger attendees weren’t even born at the time of the film’s premiere, we must sadly speculate, in this era of “G.I. Joe” and “Transformers,” about the sheer paucity of product for little girls.
We are also led to sadly speculate about the mercenary motives that have sent modern-day producers into the frenzy of musical sequels typified by “Blonde.” Broadway/L.A.’s upcoming season of musicals
at the Pantages includes “Young Frankenstein” and “101 Dalmatians,” making us wonder whether Broadway will stop poaching on Hollywood’s preserves and take a chance on the fresh and new.
Even if all this makes you approach “Blonde” in a somewhat cynical mood, be prepared to have your preconceptions shattered. Is “Blonde” blatantly derivative? Undoubtedly. Is it also delightful? Surprisingly so. Whether you’re female or male, you are likely to have a rip-roaring good time. (But men, beware. The waves of pure estrogen wafting around the theater could cause your facial hair to fall out.)
When Malibu-reared cutie Elle Woods (Becky Gulsvig) storms Harvard Law School on a mission to win back her handsome but shallow former boyfriend Warner (Jeff McLean), she’s a fish-out-of-water in a shark tank, dismissed by all as a ditsy non-entity. Elle is shattered to learn that Warner has become involved with blue-blooded brainiac, Vivienne (Megan Lewis), but with a little encouragement from her new friends, blue-collar beautician Paulette (Natalie Joy Johnson) and up-and-coming young lawyer Emmett (D.B. Bonds), Elle earns a coveted internship from Professor Callahan (Ken Land). Elle suffers a setback when she rejects Callahan’s sexual advances, and ultimately winds up defending fitness guru Brook Wyndham (Coleen Sexton) in a high-profile murder trial that proves, once and for all, that this blond really does have what it takes.
Petite powerhouse Gulsvig scores high on the adorability scale, spearheading a bevy of sensational performers, including Cortney Wolfson, Rhiannon Hansen and Crystal Joy as Elle’s sizzling sorority sisters. Merman-voiced Johnson is a scream as the floozy-ish Paulette, nailing every laugh and belting out her numbers to the back row of the balcony. Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell re-creates his Tony-nominated staging for this production, part of the First National Tour. The sheer kinetic energy of his dance numbers mostly disguises the fact that Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s music and lyrics are, by and large, completely undistinguished. Heather Hach’s book effectively streamlines the film, but did Hach really have to make Emmett the moralistic mentor who sets Elle on the path of true thoughtfulness? In the film, Reese Witherspoon’s Elle required no such masculine motivator, or at least not to such an overbearing degree.
However, if you don’t examine its roots too closely, this “Blonde” may prove smarter than you think. The show never takes itself seriously – and neither should we.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
“Legally Blonde,” Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 6. $25-$95. (800) 982-2787. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Photo (from left): Megan Lewis, Becky Gulsvig and Gretchen Burghart in "Legally Blonde." Credit: Joan Marcus