Legally Blonde is a fun, light-hearted evening. Laurence O’Keefe (music), Nell Benjamin (lyrics), and Heather Hach (book) have successfully translated the cute 2001 movie into an unexpectedly delightful and endearing musical comedy. But it’s not like I didn’t already know this — like any good showqueen, I, along with millions of 12 year-old girls, watched the MTV airing of the Broadway cast, as well as the assily produced reality casting show, The Search for the Next Elle Woods (I’m not proud). So I had a good understanding of what I was in for.
The first national tour is solid, featuring a good cast (with one minor stumble) and great staging.
In the title role, Becky Gulsvig is a peppy, if a tad bland, Elle. It’s a demanding role — she’s on stage nearly every minute, with exactly 34,647 costume changes. Gulsvig is reminiscent of a singing Reese Witherspoon, which in theory makes complete casting sense. Like Witherspoon’s Elle, Gulsvig is smart, efficient and cute as a button. However, this Legally Blonde demands not only that, but something special — a spark that makes her really stand out from her other Delta Nu sisters, in addition to, well, everyone else on stage. The only thing that made her stand out here was her sparkley wardrobe (by Gregg Barnes). While nosing into nasal territory, her singing voice is strong, and she delivered on her big numbers, “So Much Better” (which, in my opinion, is one of the best first act closing numbers out there), and the title ballad. I didn’t dislike her, but I wasn’t entirely won over either. Ambivalent.
Natalie Joy Johnson brings sweetness and sincerity to Paulette, the hairdresser with a heart-of-gold (and a sassy bend-and-snap). A robust woman fitted with a pair of six inch heels, this Paulette would have a hard time being a wallflower. However, Joy Johnson could have turned up the energy a few notches. From my row, some key punchlines were lost. Still, a very fun and sunny performance. Her “Ireland” was touching and well sung.
Collen Sexton makes an ideal Brooke — an exercise video queen accused of killing her husband who entrusts Elle to represent her defense. Sexton is a fitting last name — she’s “walking porn,” as Paulette would say. Amazing legs, and she has a voice that would be right at home at the other end of an 900 number. Megan Lewis also impressed as the icy Vivienne who comes around in the last 15 minutes. Great belt.
Elle’s “Greek chorus” was pitch-perfect. I’d like to single out Rhiannon Hansen, who played Margot. Loved her in the MTV casting show, and loved her here. She understudies Elle, and I think she’d be great in the role. She’s got a quirky star quality and huge, beaming smile that makes you take notice.
The men fare well here. D. B. Bonds was a warm Emmet, if a bit too good looking. I mean, why wouldn’t Elle fall head over heels upon first meeting him if he’s a dreamboat? Jeff McLean played up the smarm as Elle’s unrequited love and Harvard inspiration, Warner Huntington III. Ken Land struck an imposing figure as Professor Callahan. And while Ven Daniel has a killer body, he delivered more swish than swagger as Kyle, the UPS dude (if you know what I’m saying).
Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell keeps things moving at a brisk, lighthearted pace. I longed for more dancing – considering Mitchell is a dancer/choreographer by trade. However, loved what he did with “Bend and Snap,” though. And kudos to the cast for all that jump-roping! Not one skip was missed!
The sets. Awww, the sets. David Rockwell watered down his Broadway designs significantly for this tour. It’s a rather disappointing effort considering the standards of most first national tours. Yes, it gets the job done, but it seems like they’ve done everything possible to ensure the show can play in any sized barn. Everything looked dwarfed on Oriental’s large stage — particularly the Delta Nu house, which is now a door.
That said, she show is surprisingly well-crafted, with unexpected gems like “Gay or European”
(Broadway cast from the MTV airing)
…and I left with a giant smile. It’s rare to encounter a new musical comedy that embraces the format without pandering to the audience. Yes, there’s lots of pink and squealing and “girl power!!”, but it’s balanced with a tuneful score, clear storytelling and a lot of heart.
See it. Laugh. Bring your girlfriend. Bring your boyfriend. Bring your mom. Or your kids (over 12, I’d say.) They’ll all enjoy it.
[Becky Gulsvig and the cast of the first national tour of Legally Blonde]