Omigod, you guys, Elle Woods has taken over Harvard Law School and the Pantages Theatre in the Los Angeles premiere of the multiple Tony Award nominated Broadway smash musical version of Legally Blonde—and though the production isn’t going to change the world, it certainly does a purdy good job entertaining it.
Based on the original novel and subsequent hit movie of the same name, Legally Blonde tells the story of poor little rich girl Elle (here played by the effervescent Becky Gulsvig), a vapid terminally pink-clad UCLA student who’s dumped by her über-preppie boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Jeff McLean) because he feels he needs a future spouse who “is somebody.” Even though Elle defends herself admirably (“I’m hardly trailer trash,” she whines in her best Valleygirl-ese, “I live in Malibu and Richard Simmons is my neighbor”), she’s left sitting alone as her Warner retreats from her life—ready, willing and able to plot with the best of ‘em to get him back again.
Her plan to transfer to Harvard Law to a.) become somebody and b.) be near her Warner, who’s a student there, seems a tad ambitious considering her main achievement in life is shopping at Neiman-Marcus. But hey, this is musical theatre and soon, Elle is ensconced at the venerable academy and is surprised how few people dress in her signature pink.
The book by Heather Hach and lyrics by Lawrence (Batboy: the Musical) O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin are sufficiently fresh and winkingly tongue-in-cheek, something director Jerry Mitchell has a ball interpreting, especially with the eager help of this touring company of gamely energetic future musical theatre stars.
Merman-lunged Natalie Joy Johnson does an admirable turn as cougar-y cosmetologist Paulette and both D.B. Bonds and Megan Lewis lend fine support in difficult “straight” roles, he as Elle’s mentor, the lovestruck Emmett, and she as Warner’s new eastern-seaboarded Gloria Upson of a fiancée, Vivienne Kensington. Adam Zelsaco and Kyle Brown are show stealers as Nikos, the pivotal trial witness poolboytoy, and his boyfriend Carlos, who sing and dance their way through the hilarious eleventh-hour “There! Right there!” number to prove they’re both European and gay. And in the tight-shorted homoerotic sweepstakes, Brian Patrick Murphy is a comic treat as hunky UPS man Kyle, ready to deliver his very special package to the googoo-eyed Paulette.
Although O’Keefe and Benjamin’s score won’t send you out of the theatre humming a new tune stuck in your head for the next few days, their musical contribution is infectious and well managed by musical director James Sampliner, who himself does an admirable job making a four-member “orchestra” and a bank of synthesizers sound like a real Broadway show. Oddly, the majority of Legally Blonde’s dance numbers, also staged by Mitchell, who originally achieved fame as a choreographer and won the Tony for his work in La Cage aux Folles, is surprisingly uninspired here, every turn spinning across the massive Pantages stage appearing to be in search of an era.
Although every performance is a standout dripping in sincerity and both Gregg Barnes costuming and David Rockwell’s scenery are colorfully outstanding contributions to the intentionally silly proceedings, the biggest problem with this mounting, hopefully limited to its LA run and the Pantages’ notoriously quirky acoustics, remains with Acme Sound Partners’ sound design, which accentuates the adenoidal chorus of young squeaky female voices to the point where every one of them sound like the same voice — not to mention that all musical numbers are so electrified the audience loses about 50% of the songs’ best lyrics.
Nonetheless, even as a pit stop on a long national tour, LA’s visit from Legally Blonde offers some fine fun summer fluff willingly presented in fine fun summer fluff spirit.
Legally Blonde plays through Sept. 6 at the Pantages, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; for tickets, call 800.982.ARTS.