New York City Theater
In “Legally Blonde,” a Valley Girl bimbo manages to get into Harvard Law in order to follow Warner Huntington III, the fella she has a crush on. The story could be written on the head of a pin, but under Jerry Mitchell’s scenery-bursting direction and choreography sequences go by as fast as a student on Benzedrine.
This is, of course, the musicalized stage version of the successful flick in which the irrepressible Reese Witherspoon outwitted even Harvard professors. In the theater, librettist Heather Hach has gussied up the original with primary colors, resulting in an enterprise less believable, subtle and heartfelt.
Its tone is set from the get-go with the lively “Ohmigod You Guys,” a tune guaranteed to make anyone over the age of 17 rather queasy. But things perk up when Elle Woods, a credit to her sorority and a walking advertisement for the color pink, gets to Harvard, where she meets nerdy but nice Emmett Forrest and smart but lascivious Professor Callahan. She also discovers that the supposed love of her life is a jerk and that studying law at Harvard is a lot harder than mapping what to wear back at UCLA’s Delta Nu sorority house.
Yet our heroine triumphs, thanks to her knowledge of beauty and style. In a hilarious scene, she exposes the perfidy of a snide pool boy (a situation more California than Massachusetts, but who’s counting?). She also gets to know some genuine, down-home folk who wouldn’t know a Nu from a gnu, such as the helpful Emmett, manicurist Paulette and the once-sullen, suddenly sincere fellow student Vivien, who recognizes old b.f. Huntington for the social-climbing snake he is.
You’d think all this would be nothing but fluff. And you’d be mostly correct, except a few wisps of satire and a salubrious score by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin make sure the brain is at least partly engaged. “Whipped Into Shape,” which opens Act Two, is a frantic exercise class that would probably exhaust the most devout gym rat. “Ireland” is a well-deserved kick at Irish step-dancing.
The performances ooze congeniality. Laura Bell Bundy bubbles over as Elle, blazing with such good will you can’t help but embrace her pluck. The one-named Orfeh ladles her protective sassiness with sincere poignancy, while the supremely talented Christopher Borle is empathetic and sly but not sappy as Forrest. Leading the Greek Chorus of commentators who thread throughout, Leslie Kritzer leavens what could be an annoyance with humor, as does Michael Rupert as slimy Professor Callahan.
It’s all terribly forgettable, but why quibble over a few hours’ fun?
-- David A. Rosenberg
May 27, 2007