Brian Jacobson

Legally Blonde the Musical

By - Apr 14th, 2010 11:10 pm

Becky Gulsvig as Elle Woods with her Delta Nu sisters in Legally Blonde the Musica. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Anyone who saw the 2001 Reese Witherspoon film vehicle knows the plot: UCLA Delta Nu sorority president Elle Woods is spurned by her wannabe-a-Kennedy boyfriend, who takes off for Harvard Law School. Elle manages to get into the Ivy League institution, discovers a larger purpose than shopping and marrying up, and eventually helps to win a big case involving a famous fitness mogul who is a former Delta Nu.

Cut a lot of the film’s dialogue and set pieces and insert big song and dance numbers that reflect upon the story’s subtext and characters. Throw in a clever “greek chorus,” hallucinated by Elle, of sorority sisters. Ramp up a subplot involving Elle’s new stylist, Paulette, and a muscular UPS delivery man. And there you have it — Legally Blonde the Musical.

The interesting values in the musical do not come from the straightforward comedy styling or infectious and abundant songs. (I dare you to get Omigod You Guys out of your head later on.) They come from new interpretations of familiar film characters.

Becky Gulsvig (Elle) inches beyond playing a dumb blond or any hint of Reese Witherspoon. She’s closer to Kristin Chenowith‘s energy and no-nonsense sensibility. You miss a bit of the heartbreak and spunk Witherspoon projects in close-ups, but Gulsvig makes up for that with confident (almost mature) womanly wiles.

Likewise, Natalie Joy Johnson (Paulette) does not mimic the highly original persona Jennifer Coolidge created in the film. Johnson puts a little of stage vet Kathy Najimy into Paulette. D.B. Bonds (Emmett) underwhelms as an unlikely love interest for Elle, a character Luke Wilson played in understated fashion in the movie. Bonds’ take is a bit snide and condescending to Elle. Maybe the playwright trapped him into that portrayal. Still, you  somehow root for him to get the heroine.

A strong ensemble surrounds the principals, and the show gives several of them shining moments: Michael Rupert (Prof. Callahan) in Blood in the Water, Coleen Sexton (Brooke) in Whipped into Shape, or Tiffany Engen (Serena) in Bend and Snap.

This touring production lacks some of the elaborate, multi-story sets that made the Broadway version an awards-season standout, but it’s fine. Bruiser the Chihuahua appears in curiously few scenes; Paulette’s bulldog gets more stage time. Maybe it has to do American Guild of Dog Arts (AGDA) union rules.

The opening night crowd was enthusiastic and ready for this kind of funny escapism. Legally Blonde is like the iced mocha frappucinos the Delta Nus carry from scene to scene: light and frothy, caffeinated and euphoric, sweet if not a bit cold, and exactly what you desire when you don’t feel like worrying about substance or meaning.

Legally Blonde the Musical runs through April 18 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Rush tickets for high school and college students are available, as well as group rates. Call 414-273-7206 or visit the Marcus website for ticketing information.

Categories: Classical, Theater

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