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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Legally Blonde The Musical is Smashingly Entertaining at the 5th Avenue Theatre

Legally Blonde
Becky Gulsvig
Gentleman (and ladies, and kids) still prefer blondes, if the riotous reaction and standing ovation opening night of the national tour of Legally Blonde is any indication. By happenstance I caught the original film with Reese Witherspoon on television just a day after seeing the show, and it confirmed for me that the musical adaptation by Heather Hach (book ) and married collaborators Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin (music and lyrics) is every bit as entertaining a piece of fluff as the film, and one in which the music feels naturally part of heroine Elle Woods' world.

With very few alterations (mainly a few minor characters were excised), the tale of Elle's unlikely transformation from sorority sweetheart from La-La Land to budding legal eagle at Harvard Law plays out in the musical, with some clever touches like having Elle's sorority sisters pop up as an only-in-her-mind Greek chorus, so they can take part in or star in the big musical numbers. Elle's pursuit of her so-not-worth-it college beau Warner, and ultimate match up with lovable legal eagle Emmett, is funny and endearing, as is the sub-plot regarding Elle's hairdresser crony Paulette and her hunky UPS man/boyfriend. Not every song by O'Keefe and Benjamin is a stunner, but the majority work and land beautifully, in a score with such winners as the zingy opener "Ohmigod, You Guys," the outstanding comedy ensemble number " There! Right! There!" ( better known under a title that would be a spoiler) and the tenderly moving title ballad.

Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell makes sure this is a show with more bounce to the ounce, and his cast is as able as you could ask for. Vivacious Becky Gulsvig is a swell Elle Woods, making her own mark in the role created on film by Reese Witherspoon and on Broadway by Laura Bell Bundy. Despite the predictably tinny sound system at the 5th, Gulsvig makes the most of her many numbers, and is just so likable that you'd want her to become a Supreme Court Justice, let alone a law school grad. Try not to shed a tear when she gets to the plaintive "Legally Blonde." Gulsvig has a warm chemistry with D.B. Bonds as her champion and later boyfriend Emmett, and he makes a good case with his "Chip on My Shoulder" introductory song, and is a howl in the "Take It Like A Man" number wherein Elle does a wardrobe remake on him. Veteran Broadway actor/singer Michael Rupert, better known for playing charming good guys and heroes, recreates his marvelous original Broadway cast turn as Elle's rather surly and complex Professor Callahan, and his vocal prowess and strong presence are apparent in his featured turn "Blood in the Water" and throughout the show.

A big piece of the show is stolen with winsome charm and vocal dynamism by Natalie Joy Johnson as Paulette, Elle's cosmetician pal. If ever a song kind of wandered into a show from nowhere and ended up being my favorite, it is Paulette's goofy ode to "Ireland," and Johnson's rendition is sheer bliss. Jeff McLean is right on as Elle's handsome but smarmy ex-beau Warner, and Megan Lewis makes a nice transition from bitchy to sympathetic as his new girlfriend Vivienne. Tiffany Engen, Rhiannon Hansen and Candice Marie Woods sizzle as Elle's Greek chorus, Coleen Sexton is a sparkling presence as Elle's client Brooke, while Ven Daniel's gets every sexy move and earns every laugh he can as Paulette's hunky UPS guy. Not to leave out a pair of canine cuties: Frankie as Elle's Chihuahua Bruiser and Nellie as Johnson's bull-dog Rufus.

The high-energy and versatile ensemble of triple-threat talents rise to Mitchell's choreographic challenges, most spectacularly in the act two opener "Whipped Into Shape." The show's energy never flags and the gang is, well, in the pink in Gregg Barnes' cotton-candy cool costumes. David Rockwell's sets are a rather tepid touring version of what they looked like on Broadway, though still fun and clever.

The recently opened West End edition of Legally Blonde garnered mostly raves of the sort that the curmudgeonly NYC critics held back on. I loved it in New York and I loved it here. Spend your monthly allowance on it and you won't be sorry!

Legally Blonde-The Musical is playing at The 5th Avenue Theatre through March 14th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.


Photo: Joan Marcus

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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