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‘Legally Blonde the Musical’ is Aptly Sweetened Chicago Refreshment

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Average: 2 (1 vote)

CHICAGO – If you were one of those Chicagoans who discovered a new allergy to the hoards of hormonally-charged pubescents attached to “Wicked’s” wake, you may want to take heed, or rather cover—a new touring behemoth promises to tow along new teenie boppers to the Ford Theatre. But not to worry, plenty of chaperones will surely be on duty.

HollywoodChicago.com Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 4.0/5.0
Play Rating: 4.0/5.0

“Legally Blonde” is nothing short of a gleeful libation to this ever-devoted tween demographic, complete with remarkably contemporary nuance and innuendo in every last one of its bubblegum drops.

This musicalized conception, much like the pop phenomenon film of the same name, playfully arraigns the notion that one’s IQ is inversely related to the number of sunless tanners she uses.

Although the Legally Blonde creatives ultimately eschew a final verdict on the matter in favor of a more plentiful supply of shimmer lip-gloss jokes, the production is smartly unafraid to flirt with our obsession with ostensible glitz, whether in the form of Brangelina or the captain of the cheerleading squad.

Composers Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe along with bookwriter Heather Hach have astutely capitalized on the contemporary audience’s paradoxical engrossment with the likes of “The Hills” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County” as they methodically transport you to the frothy shores of Malibu.

Elle Woods and her blonde bombshell entourage of sorority sisters are at once the embodiment of all we exalt and that which we secretly resent. From its sparkling proscenium to its unfettered MTV dialect, the production proffers itself as the college toga party we were never quite cool enough to attend. All that glitters in this keg party may not be gold, but it sure is fun to watch.

Becky Gulsvig as Elle Woods and Frankie as Bruiser in Legally Blonde” target=
Becky Gulsvig as Elle Woods and Frankie as Bruiser in Legally Blonde.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

The rhapsodic production follows the familiar farcical narrative of the 2001 film that launched Reese Witherspoon’s silver screen career into the celestial sphere. Elle Woods, a graduating UCLA fashion merchandising student sets out to prove her academic sincerity to her recently dissociated love interest.

Adamant in proving that her cerebellum is not as transparent as her highlights, Elle enrolls at Harvard Law School where she quickly learns that simply looking the part cannot supplant an honest work ethic and strength in character. This familiar plot arc has always worked on its own terms, although arguably more so in its initial film format.

Ultimately the piece timidly asks its audience to hold a cosmetic mirror to the question: can a girl really have the brains, the brawn, and the Wonder Bra?

Natalie Joy Johnson (Paulette) and Ven Daniel (Kyle) in Legally Blonde” target=
Natalie Joy Johnson (Paulette) and Ven Daniel (Kyle) in Legally Blonde.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Markedly to its credit, however, “Legally Blonde” positions itself as much more than the campy yearbook throwaway that most naysayer critics initially scribbled across its Broadway marquee. The precocious libretto is limned with hints of a modern day, albeit sugarcoated, feminist manifesto and at times communicates a fiercely sharp satire on the Girls Gone Wild age of post-modernism.

Hach’s claws may not come out too often, but when they do they are stiletto sharp and press-on. Indeed, although Ms. Woods is well-versed in the study of Brazilian waxes and flat irons, she unabashedly proclaims her knowledge of the works of Gloria Steinem, suggesting that she may in fact keep a copy of the “Feminist Mystique” underneath all of those Jimmy Choo flip-flops.

Becky Gulsvig as Elle Woods and Coleen Sexton as Brooke Wyndham in Legally Blonde the Musical
Becky Gulsvig as Elle Woods and Coleen Sexton as Brooke Wyndham in Legally Blonde the Musical.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

The question of whether or not a feminine aesthetic and cerebral aptitude should be viewed as mutually exclusive constructs is a most topical one, although the innermost caverns of which are explored neither in book nor score. It seems as though every time Benjamin, O’Keefe, and Hach near a truly insightful edge, they retreat back to the safety net of overworked perm jokes and department store makeovers.

Indeed, Legally Blonde is primarily and self-assuredly an apple-rimmed flirtini of a show, the bulk of whose moral dilemma focuses on Elle’s decision between participating in a Panhellenic beerfest or LSAT prep work.

Fortunately for the Delta Nu sisters, however, prodigious director Jerry Mitchell helms the production with a well-calculated balance between youthful zest and proliferative emotion. Mitchell is a director who perspicuously understands the need to marry traditional theatre direction with the music video flare du jour.

Hach matches Mitchell’s dexterity with dialogue that is careful never to speak condescendingly or belittlingly to any of its characters, a must-have in a production that requests that its character transformations be taken as seriously as its choreographed courtroom scenes.

Although the book would have benefited from a more developed social emotionality (the existence of which is further hindered by the constraints of a new touring set), Hach demonstrates her understanding of “Legally Blonde’s” merger between biting humor and the underdog spirit.

The technically skilled touring cast does not seem quite as comfortable with the production’s winking humor as their embryonic Broadway predecessors. Becky Gulsvig as the blonde with the briefcase espouses the vocal chops necessary to fill Benjamin and O’Keefe’s polyphonic score, yet misses the brimming charm put forth by Broadway’s Laura Bell Bundy.

StarMore theater reviews from critic Alissa Norby.
StarMore theater reviews from our other critics.

D.B. Bonds as Emmett and Natalie Joy Johnson as Paulette both render magnetic performances, although a more sophisticated level of comfort with the characters is in due order. Megan Lewis (Vivienne) and Alex Ellis (Kate/Chutney) give nonpareil comedic performances that are equally matched by their vocal fervor.

You may not find the “Legally Blonde” Greek Chorus in any Euripides drama or its camouflaged feminist slant in the works of Susan B. Anthony, but this pink-clad production oozes fun and sagacity from its every turn. And that’s, like, so worth checking out.

“Legally Blonde” runs through June 7, 2009 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre at 24 W. Randolph in Chicago. The show runs Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit here or call 312-977-1710.

For half-price Chicago theater tickets, visit our partner Goldstar.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Alissa Norby

Staff Writer

© 2009 Alissa Norby, HollywoodChicago.com

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