Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
Also see Fred's review of The Seafarer
Legally Blonde: The Musical is cute, cheerful, lively and engaging. Anyone who saw the film starring Reese Witherspoon understands that the storyline, too, is intriguing enough to sustain interest. The touring version of the show continues its run at Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, December 14th.
Appealing actress Becky Gulsvig plays the very pink and perky Elle Woods, who opens the show as a member of Delta Nu Sorority at UCLA. Her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Jeff McLean) gives Elle the brush-off. Her reaction is to find her way to Harvard Law School, and he (having already arrived) is a tad surprised to see her. Elle is quick witted and determined to outclass Warner. Much of the plot spins around a tough law class led by Professor Callahan (Ken Land). His assistant is the up-and-coming attorney Emmett Forrest (D.B. Bonds) and we all know that it is Emmett (not Warner) who will ultimately couple-up with the fair Elle.
Some of Elle's sorority sisters (played by Cortney Wolfson, Rhiannon Hansen, Crystal Joy and, it seems, a few others) appear in the initial scene of the play and then again and again as choral supporters/friends forever to Elle. Jerry Mitchell, directing and choreographing after he did just that while Legally Blonde was on Broadway, provides much zip and fancy-footwork throughout. This is effervescent musical theaternot profound but quite happily entertaining.
Natalie Joy Johnson wins laughs and kudos as Paulette the hairdresser and, when needed, sweet Elle's friend. Megan Lewis plays Vivienne, who is adversarial to Elle but later comes to the star's defense.
I cannot say that I will ever remember any of the tunes or lyrics provided by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, but the music is pleasant, and the actual numbers most invigorating. "Blood in the Water," which features Callahan and the company, is a first act highlight as is "Chip on My Shoulder," led by Emmett and Elle. "Bend and Snap" energizes both the cast and audience during the second portion of the show. A reprise of "Omigod You Guys," which opens the evening, is most welcome, too.
So, Legally Blonde, based upon the novel by Amanda Brown and the feature film, lands in the plus column if one runs down a list of vital components for a successful musical. The book's subject matter, furnished by Heather Hach, adds some spark. With Elle as centerpiece, those around her feel for her. The plot includes requisite romantic lines: Elle and Warner, not Elle and Warner, and, ultimately, Elle and Emmett. While the lyrics are not classic, the songs are catchy and buoyant. How appropriate! And, Legally Blonde, while not wildly funny, is just comic enough to please.
The outer shape of the musical, thanks to excellence of design, adds dashes of pizzazz. Gregg Barnes' wardrobe choices are splashy, joyful and suitable. Elle wears a great deal of pink, a perfect match for her personality. David Rockwell, the set designer, adds many drops and sliding pieces (such as a portable shower). The depiction of a women's prison, complete with visual depth to simulate jail cells in the background, is both clever and exquisite.
When Legally Blonde ran on Broadway, it received a slew of Tony and Drama Desk nominations; I'm not surprised. The musical continues at The Bushnell Center for Performing Arts through Sunday, December 14th. For tickets, visit www.bushnell.org or call (860) 987-5900.
- Fred Sokol