Talkin' Broadway Regional News & Reviews: San Francisco - "Legally Blonde" - 2/8/07
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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Legally Blonde
A Musical for the 21st Century

Also see Richard's reviews of Camelot and Farm Boys

Legally Blonde
Christian Borle, Laura Bell Bundy and
Richard H. Blake

Legally Blonde, with a score by Nell Benjamin and Laurence O'Keefe and book by Heather Hach, is currently having its pre-Broadway run at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. It follows in the footsteps of such energetic musicals as Wicked, The Wedding Singer and Hairspray. These musicals remind me of the fluffy musicals of the '50s where there was no message to impart upon the audience. O'Keefe's music in the first thirty minutes of the piece is very zippy, sounding a lot like contemporary pop music. I doubt if you could hum any of these, but you will remember the lyrics of Nell Benjamin on the song "Omigod You Guys," with "omigod" repeated over and over and over again during those first scenes. We finally get a melody when Michael Rupert sings with his commanding voice, "Blood in the Water." It's an interesting melody and the lyrics by Benjamin are very clever.

I am not a great fan of movies being made into musicals (with the exception of Hairspray). Legally Blonde is based on the silly and charming 2001 MGM comedy of the same name, and it comes close to being a nice transition from film to stage. The opening scenes strike me as exactly what Lestat accomplished in its tryout here - too much information in too time time. The action is frantic and the sound system of the theatre did not help (at the performance reviewed) since many of the voices were shrill. Once there is trimming of these opening scenes there should be a great audience friendly fun musical for the summer tourist in Manhattan. The second act has an excellent compact story to tell. The composer gets away from the pop style and gives us some darn good Broadway show songs.

Legally Blonde follows the storyline of the film closely. Elle thinks only of fashion, which appears to be mostly pink, and she has a perfect grade point average. Her other interest is her pretentious boyfriend Warner Huntington III, who is off to Harvard to attend law school. Warner is not all that interested in perky Elle since he wants a wife who can help with his career aspirations, to be a Senator. Apparently, poor Elle does not cut it, which make our heroine very unhappy. But she is not about to give up on marrying the eligible bachelor and she somehow gets admitted to the prestigious Harvard Law School where she shows up pretty in pink, dressed like she just got off a Minsky's burlesques runway. She even has a cute little dog that enters the stage on cue. These scenes fly by, resulting in a jumble of mundane songs sung by sorority girls with shrill voices.

The musical picks up with the introduction of characters played by Michael Rupert, Christian Borle, Orfeh, Kate Shindle and Nikki Snelson. No-nonsense young law student Emmett Forrest is played splendidly by Christian Borle. His silver-toned voice is terrific in the song "Chip on My Shoulder," one of the best songs in this two and a half hour production. We also meet the beauty parlor owner/operator Paulette, played by Orfeh. She has a lilting voice singing the comical song "Ireland." Kate Shindle is very good as the prim and proper Vivienne (appropriate as the future wife of Warner.)

Legally Blonde's second act is compact and very entertaining with the introduction of Nikki Snelson as Brooke, who is on trial for murder. Snelson has a striking voice with a wide range when singing "Whipped Into Shape." The choreography by Jerry Mitchell, who also directs the musical, is filled with energy, especially in the opening of the second act, with the cast jumping rope and doing athletic movements in orange jumpsuits. This scene shakes and bakes the definition of a Broadway show. The audience get a wonderful eclectic group of melodies ranging from a Riverdance-type number, with the dancers doing a wonderful parody of the Irish dance, to a soulful ballad sung beautifully by Laura Bell Bundy as Elle Woods. The high point of the evening has to be the fantastic, hilarious musical question "Is he Gay or European?" referring to a witness in a court of law. The scene involving Laura Bell Bundy and Christian Borle at the Hansen-Harkness Department store where the duo sing "Take It Like a Man" is rousing.

Laura Bell Bundy is cute and ditzy, especially in those opening scenes. She knows how to shake her body, and her voice reminds me of Kristin Chenoweth's. Her movements early on are much like Kristin also. Later, she turns into a very good singer and actress when she dons more conservative clothes to become a legal assistant in the big trial scene in the second act. She proves to be an accomplished singing actress rather then a cartoon caricature of ditzy blonde.

Christian Borle is a standout as Emmett Forrest with smooth vocals. He shows great thematic resonance when singing "Take it Like a Man" and "Chip on My Shoulder." Michael Rupert with his powerful voice is outstanding playing Professor Callahan, especially in the "Blood In the Water" number. Orfeh and Nikki Snelson are great assets to the musical, especially when singing. Orfeh is delightful on the humorous "Ireland." Richard H. Blake is great as the ego-driven Warner Huntington III. He has an authoritative voice when singing.

Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell still has some work ahead of him before the show opens at the Palace in New York in April, although the dancing is dazzling, sexy and exhilarating. There is enough energy coming from the stage to light San Francisco for months.

A lot of money has been poured into this show and David Rockwell's sets show it. There are so many set changes that you lose track of what is going on the stage. The stage is enclosed by three sets of plastic frames, like a box in a box in a box. Lights behind the frames change with various bright colors thanks to Ken Posner and Paul Miller's lighting design. Everything is colored in pinks, greens and maybe a little blue. The set for the courtroom scene and the law school is massive and very detailed. Costumes by Gregg Barnes are bright and cheery even with that outlandish pink outfit Elle wears when entering the sacred halls of Harvard. However, the cast in those orange jumpsuits in the opening of the second act number reminded me of prisoners in the county jail. The orchestra under the direction of James Sampliner is first class.

There is no doubt in my mind that, with proper trimming and a little cutting, this musical will be a hit with summer Broadway audiences. It a fun, entertaining musical that people will be seeking in these troubled times.

Legally Blonde plays at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, off Market, San Francisco through February 24th. The musical then goes to New York with an April opening. For tickets call 415-512-7770 , at ticketmaster.com, at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers and the Orpheum Box Office, at 1192 Market Street at 9th, San Francisco.


Photo: Paul Kolnik


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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