Review: Legally Bubblegum
It's bright pink, full of pop, and makes your jaw sore…from laughing. Enter Legally Blonde, the newest edition to the growing league of bubblegum musicals. Making its pre-Broadway debut in San Francisco after two weeks of previews, this screen-to-stage tuner certainly kicks. And squeals, giggles, bends and snaps!
After choreographing movie-musical successes like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Full Monty and Hairspray, Jerry Mitchell proves he didn't bite off more than he could chew in taking the directorial helm, packing every inch of Legally Blonde with the bombastic! Closely following the hit MGM movie, adapted from Amanda Brown's novel, the musical features a hilarious book by Heather Hach and catchy music and lyrics by Nell Benjamin and Laurence O'Keefe (Batboy).
Elle Woods – a perky sorority fashionista from Malibu – nearly falls apart when the man of her dreams dumps her to pursue a career in law. But, like, Harvard can't be too difficult to get into, right? Elle hits the books to chase her boy, lands herself an internship in criminal law, and (with the help of a charming nerd and her motivational muses) finds her calling may be in the courtroom instead of a dressing room.
Mitchell pulls out all the stops with his caffeinated choreography. Elle makes an unforgettable entrance to Harvard Law with a marching band and color-guard in "What You Want," complete with half-naked gyrating men and a rappin' grandmaster. After intermission, work your cardio with an incredible 15-person jump-rope routine "Whipped Into Shape." A full company Riverdance is just the icing on the cake!
Hach's book is brimming with wit; from contemporary nods to eBay and gaydar to crowd-favorite one-liners: "Subtext, by Calvin Klein." Most of the jokes are perfectly timed but others linger, making for some uncomfortably sticky moments of dialogue. Hach takes a page right out of the screenwriter's hand-book for two scenes in Act 1. Montage! Five months of cramming for the LSAT and an internship pass cleverly in mere minutes with slices of droll banter and holiday jingles.
Laura Bell Bundy (Wicked) as Elle runs circles on that stage. Each performance in her shoes must be more like training for a marathon! Her gradual change from sorority-ditz to lawyer-delight is magnetic. "So Much Better," her closest thing to a solo, is electrifying and toe-tapping.
Christian Borle (Spamalot) fits the role of gentlemanly geek, Emmett, and demonstrates some great vocal control. But any sign of romanticism between he and Elle is zilch.
Orfeh (Saturday Night Fever) as the salon super-diva, Paulette, is campy bliss. Her turn with the wistful "Ireland" is quirky and bizarre, but with North Atlantic whales singing back-up, how can you go wrong? Later she, Bundy, and the sorority team bring down the house with the trademark Bend and Snap, a move "invented by UCLA cheerleaders to intimidate the opposing team."
But there are some terribly underwritten characters. Richard H. Blake as Elle's ex-boyfriend Warner, is mirror to his role in The Wedding Singer with an almost identical restaurant-proposal scene. It is still unclear as to why Warner's girlfriend, Vivienne (Kate Shindle), has a change-of-heart in Act 2. But Shindle definitely wins the prize for best power-belt during "Legally Blonde (Remix)"!
Props to the entire ensemble of hyphy Delta Nu girls, hoppin' inmates, and classy sales reps. Enid (Natalie Joy Johnson) is Broadway's new favorite lesbian, while Leslie Kritzer is "frickin' wicked stunning" as Serena. And Andy Karl as the sexy UPS Man would make any grown man blush for…I mean…umm…
Benjamin and O'Keefe's music, for the most part, is bouncy and effective. The opening number "Omigod You Guys" is addictive (yes, men were humming it at intermission). You half-expect Justin Timberlake to strut on-stage during Blake's boy-band style "Serious." And forget big black ladies – the 11 o-clock number goes to gay (or European?) pool boys! Still, some songs need retooling. The title song is lack-luster. "Blood in the Water," sung by Michael Rupert (Professor Callahan), is drab. And both of Borle's numbers are forgettable and too plot-driven.
Creatively, the production is pristine. Like a larger-than-life music box, the combination of vivid scenery, splashy lighting, and vibrant outfits is stunning. David Rockwell has slickly steered gargantuan set pieces around a maze of walls, doors, staircases, and – my personal favorite – striking backdrops. Ingeniously, Ken Posner and Paul Miller's lighting design pushes the boundaries of the stage, igniting the proscenium in rainbows of color. Gregg Barnes' captivating costumes are sparkling and chic.
The question: In the ever-increasing swirl of hit-or-miss bubblegum musicals, can Broadway afford one more? While Legally Blonde is certainly full of spunk and color (ie: Hairspray), there is nothing here to stimulate brain-cells (ie: The Wedding Singer). But following trends of Spamalot and Jersey Boys, it's safe to say theatre-goers prefer a good-time over mental-stimulation. Plus, with a limitless teenage girl fan-base, Legally Blonde will have a healthy box office for a while.
In a pretty package and promising long-lasting flavor – ready or not – here Elle comes!
Legally Blonde:book by Heather Hach, music and lyrics by Nell Benjamin & Laurence O'Keefe , directed by Jerry Mitchell, at the Golden Gate Theatre through February 24, 2007. 2hrs, 30mins with 1 intermission. Tickets ($35-$90) are available at 415-512-7770 or www.shnsf.com. The Golden Gate Theatre is located at the corner of Taylor and Golden Gate Avenue at Market Street and 6th Street in San Francisco. Photos by Paul Kolnik.
From This Author Eugene Lovendusky