'Legally Blonde: The Musical'

It's easy to dismiss "Legally Blonde: The Musical" as lethally bland in a creative sense. But the show is so relentlessly perky that sorority sisters aren't the only ones likely to turn out for a national tour starting just as the Broadway run is nearing its end.

It’s easy to dismiss “Legally Blonde: The Musical” as lethally bland in a creative sense. But the show is so relentlessly perky that sorority sisters aren’t the only ones likely to turn out for a national tour starting just as the Broadway run is nearing its end. The tuner looks like a certain draw on the road considering the enduring popularity of the 2001 source movie, not to mention today’s legions of high school girls who’ll look on it as “Harvard Law School Musical.” Even those who don’t roll up wearing pink are likely to respond to a story of female empowerment so schematic it’s basically a fairy tale outfitted at the mall.

Looks are everything in this image-conscious story, and so it’s fortunate that Becky Gulsvig has the trim figure and assertively blond hair to complement the pink outfits favored by Malibu gal Elle Woods, whose UCLA undergrad degree in fashion merchandising seemingly leaves her ill-prepared for the rigors of Harvard Law School.

Like the show as a whole, this role calls for more enthusiasm than depth or psychology; in that regard, Gulsvig engagingly shows off her blond highlights and conveys just enough of the character’s roots as a young woman determined to convince others she’s no mere dumb blonde.

If Gulsvig’s photogenic appearance sometimes puts this across more persuasively than her capably spoken and sung lines, it’s indicative of a nagging worry throughout director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s production. The cast’s fast delivery, the orchestra’s revved up playing and the louder-is-better sound design probably will be well received by the show’s target demographic. But some dialogue and lyrics are swallowed up by all that noise. It’s not as if the lines are worthy of Shakespeare — though the Bard is quoted in a Harvard Law graduation scene — but it would be nice to allow the characters to present their limited dimensions to better advantage.

In any event, Elle’s actions speak louder than her words. When her California boyfriend, the status-conscious Warner Huntington III (Jeff McLean), dumps her, Elle gets herself admitted to Harvard. Warner has a new girlfriend, Vivienne Kensington (Megan Lewis), a more respectable brunette; and Elle in turn is befriended by potential love interest Emmett (D.B. Bonds). Their romantic entanglements prove that courtroom dramatics are mild next to a blonde being teased by a brunette.

Appropriately, much of the action plays out in a beauty salon run by Paulette (Natalie Joy Johnson), who seems eager to wash a man right into her hair.

While the romantically jousting leads and numerous supporting players certainly have fun with the academic soap opera plot, for the most part they stop short of shameless stereotypes and put some genuine feeling into their agreeable singing. Also endearing are two well-behaved dogs who earn as much applause as the human performers.

The cast meshes well as an ensemble, especially in rousing numbers like a “Riverdance” parody that’s true to the show’s anything-to-please approach. The actors also look their best thanks to hair designer David Brian Brown and costumer Gregg Barnes. Although David Rockwell’s spare sets don’t exactly dip into the Harvard endowment, they appear and disappear with ease, making the story fly by like the pretty-in-pink fantasy it is.

Legally Blonde: The Musical

Hippodrome Theater, Baltimore; 2,286 seats; $67 top

Production

A Hal Luftig, Fox Theatricals, Dori Berinstein, James L. Nederlander, Independent Presenters Network, Roy Furman, Broadway Asia, Barbara Whitman, Wolkenberg/Freitag, Hendel/Nocciolino, Stern/Meyer, Asnes/Zotovich, Bartner/Jenkins, Warren Trepp presentation in association with MGM On Stage, Darcie Denkert and Dean Stolber of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, book by Heather Hach, based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the MGM motion picture. Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Music director, Jan Rosenberg.

Creative

Sets, David Rockwell; costumes, Gregg Barnes; lighting, Ken Posner, Paul Miller; sound, Acme Sound Partners; hair, David Brian Brown; music supervisor, James Sampliner; orchestrations, Christopher Jahnke; arrangements, O'Keefe, Sampliner; associate director, Marc Bruni; associate choreographer, Denis Jones; animal trainer, Bill Berloni; associate producers, PMC Prods., Yasuhiro Kawana; production stage manager, Tom Bartlett; stage manager. Opened Sept. 30, reviewed Oct. 1, 2008. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.

Cast

Elle Woods - Becky Gulsvig Warner Huntington III - Jeff McLean Vivienne Kensington - Megan Lewis Emmett Forrest - D.B. Bonds Professor Callahan - Ken Land Paulette - Natalie Joy Johnson Serena - Cortney Wolfson Margot - Rhiannon Hansen Pilar - Crystal Joy Brooke Wyndham - Coleen Sexton Kate, Chutney - Alex Ellis
With: Sarah Marie Jenkins, Lauren Ashley Zakrin, Gretchen Burghart, Stacey Sargeant, Mamie Parris, Ven Daniel, Paul Jackel, Nick Dalton, Joshua James Campbell, Josh Walden, Adam Zelasko, Tally Sessions, Alex Ellis, Brian Patrick Murphy.
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