Legally Blonde at Barter Theatre

This fluffy story has travelled well, from its origins on screen to its successful run as a musical on Broadway and now assayed in myriad regional productions around the country.

Barter Theatre is tucked in the southwest corner of Virginia, in the delightful town of Abingdon. The theatre opened in 1933, and offered Depression-era residents to trade crops or “ham for Hamlet.” Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder and George Bernard Shaw accepted these trades in lieu of monetary royalties (although Shaw the vegetarian reportedly requested spinach). Thirteen years after its opening the Barter was designated the State Theatre of Virginia, a recognition that spread nationally. Actors treading the boards before fame elsewhere include Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine, Hume Cronyn, Ned Beatty and James (Cheers, Taxi) Burrows.

The 500 seat main stage is a delightful theatre, with great sight lines and acoustics.  The theatre does not shy away from slightly edgy fare, I presume the current production of “Avenue Q” raised a few eyebrows for the local theatre goers.

“Legally Blonde” is nonetheless a delightful tale of a seemingly ditzy UCLA sorority sister from Malibu who chases her apparent soul mate when he heads east for Harvard Law School. The book (by Heather Hach) essentially fleshes out the adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ Opening with the splashy “Omigod You Guys” we are introduced to Elle and her Delta Nu sisters. In the titular role, Ellie Mooney is agreeably perky and does a fine job convincing us of her changes. When a break up is delivered rather than the expected engagement ring, Elle resolves to show her beau the error of his ways.

In a series of Moliere-like comic circumstances, Elle ends up in the 1L class at Harvard law with her ex, his fiancée and a clutch of other characters. A subplot involving Elle’s hairdresser (admirably played by Lacretta Nicole) lets Elle try out her new convictions.  An improbable murder trial (but nothing is really improbable in such musicals) affords Elle the chance to leverage her instincts and experience (she did get an A in fashion merchandising). She teaches her beau, her sexist professor and us that Elle is more than meets the eye.

Folks from all ages were in attendance at the Barter, and a delightful time was had by all. The wonderful history of the venue and the confident nature of the production assure longevity for the Barter.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.