Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
It's not every musical (or any other musical for that matter) that can claim that its Broadway stage production has been broadcast on MTV in its entirety and spawned a reality TV show, but those claims can indeed be made by Legally Blonde, The Musical. Currently playing in Dayton, Ohio at the Schuster Center, this fast-paced show faithfully adapts the film to the stage with spunk and flair to spare.
Based on the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon and the preceding novel by Amanda Brown, Legally Blonde tells the tale of spoiled-rich sorority gal Elle Woods who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School to win back his affections. In the meanwhile, she discovers a lot about herself and slowly becomes a worthy lawyer-in-training despite her dumb blonde outer demeanor.
The book for the musical by Heather Hatch includes the requisite balance of youth-targeted humor (much of which works exceedingly well), emotional pull, romantic entanglements and modern day conflict. Though some of the depictions of various groups (sorority sisters, homosexuals, lawyers) may not be politically correct at all times, the show never takes itself too seriously and includes enough self-mockery and deconstruction of stereotypes to be acceptable. The show moves at a rapid pace and covers a lot of material while still telling the story clearly.
The score by Laurence O'Keefe (Bat Boy) and Nell Benjamin doesn't register as overly distinguished with only a single viewing of the show (which is all that most audience members will ever have), but repeated exposure (via multiple visits, the MTV broadcast or hearing the CD) demonstrates tuneful and often witty songs filled with strong pop-influenced melodies and smart word-play. Song highlights include the exuberant "What You Want," the bouncy "Positive," "Take It Like A Man" (where Elle expresses her appreciation to friend Emmett for his support) and the lovely and plaintive title number.
Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell deserves both praise and criticism for his work on Legally Blonde. The smooth scene transitions, appropriately silly yet sympathetic tone, aptly perky character personifications, and wise use of theatrical gimmicks all aid the production. However, the show feels too "manufactured" at times, and lacks an overall cohesiveness. In addition, this doesn't represent Mr. Mitchell's best work as a choreographer. Though suitable for the piece, his hip-hop style dances rely too much on posing, hand motions, and raw athleticism, and rarely feel organic to the piece.
Lauren Ashley Zakrin was one of the actresses featured on the reality show that sought a Broadway replacement for Elle, and she has recently taken over the lead role on the road. She sings strongly, with lots of feeling and color to her vocals. Acting-wise, she's also pitch perfect, capturing both the humor and emotion of the character. D.B. Bonds displays excellent comic timing and delivery, and sings well as Emmett. Natalie Joy Johnson (who played a smaller and much different role in the Broadway production) is excellent as the very funny hairdresser friend Paulette, and gets to show off her singing voice as well. Providing solid performances in support are Jeff McLean (Warner), Ken Land (Callahan), Megan Lewis (Vivienne), Colleen Sexton (Brooke), Gretchen Burghart (Enid), Rhiannon Hansen (Margot), Crystal Joy (Pilar) and Cortney Wolfson (Serena). The entire ensemble does well in executing the non-stop choreography and vocal support.
David Rockwell's set is slightly scaled down from the Broadway version, but remains attractive, varied, and fun. The lighting by Kenneth Posner and Paul Miller is excellent, with many nice touches throughout. Costumes by Gregg Barnes are young, hip, and stylish.
Legally Blonde, The Musical isn't perfect, or groundbreaking in any way. However, it is fun, entertaining, humorous, and well performed and crafted. The show deserved more recognition than it received in New York, and one could make a sound argument and plea to potential audience members to see the musical as it crisscrosses the country. Legally Blonde continues at the Schuster Center in Dayton through June 21, 2009. Call (937) 228-3630 for tickets. For more information on the tour schedule, visit tour.legallyblondethemusical.com/tour.php.-- Scott Cain