Fifty years from now, when the experts (theater queens of the future) look back at the 2006-7 season on Broadway, they will likely note that Legally Blonde defined its time with its amusing references to current tastes and trends. They'll wonder, as do we, were all those references to Red Bull, etc., intended as cultural detail or simply product placement. Regardless, the show itself will be seen as a veritable model of contemporary musical comedy. Fast-paced, funny and marketed to young girls, these highly evolved ATC chatters of the future will note that the show had just enough themes (sisterhood and girl power) and more than enough talent to become the commercial blockbuster of the season. And looking back from the year 2057, they'll marvel that the show is still running even though tangerine finally did become the new pink.
Legally Blonde is diametrically opposed to a show like LoveMusik. In fact, Legally Blonde is a pretty far cry from Spring Awakening, even though both are essentially geared to the same age group, though perhaps not those with the same fashion sense. Happily, however, there is room on Broadway for a variety of tastes.
Whatever Legally Blonde lacks in intellectual wherewithal, it more than makes up for with theatrical zest. When all is said and done, this show is more about musical theater than it is about Elle Woods and sisterhood. There is joyfulness in the sheer showmanship of this production. Jerry Mitchell's first Broadway directorial assignment turns out to be a smash because this soufflé of a show rises to a light and airy flakiness that is as sweet as it is funny.
There is nothing distinguished about the music by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, but their lyrics are deliciously dicey. A remarkable portion of this show is actually performed in song, and their lyrics not only drive the plot, they reveal character with wit and whimsy. Using contemporary vernacular, the songs speak the language of the target audience and they do so with a tart flavor that pointedly makes no accommodation to the old folks in the audience. There is nothing, in fact, about this musical that either panders to its youthful audience or tries to placate the adults. Songs like "Blood in the Water," "Ireland" and "There! Right There!" (which will probably come to be known as "Gay or European?"), while markedly different from each other, all have in common a sharp lyric bite. The first is a monstrous satire, the second is a laugh out loud parody, and the third is a playful comic romp. All of them work.
It's been said that ninety percent of all direction is casting; if that's true, then Mitchell starts out with ninety percent right out of the block. Laura Bell Bundy is a blonde bundle of exuberant talent; she carries the show with considerable support, including a perfectly understated performance by Christian Borle, a wonderfully vicious turn by Michael Rupert, and a vivaciously comic Greek Chorus led by the effervescent Leslie Kritzer. Orfeh shines in the featured role of Paulette, while her real life husband, Andy Karl, is a revelation in a variety of minor parts culminating in his scene-stealing role as the UPS man who wins Paulette's heart.
The show's most noticeable problem is the sound design, especially during group numbers early in the evening; it's a struggle to make out some of the lyrics. Another quibble: Jerry Mitchell's choreography blows hot and cold; it's a very dancy show so people are moving all the time, sometimes a bit generically. His direction actually outshines his choreography. But the overall effect of Legally Blonde is that it's going to generate a lot of legal tender.
5 Stars: The Drama Desk Nominees Party
It was the evening of a hundred stars last Tuesday at Arte Café on 73rd and Columbus when the Drama Desk held its annual Nominees Party, celebrating the accumulated talent of a great season. The nominees from works small and large gathered to mingle with members of the Drama Desk (more than 135 critics, journalists and editors who cover the theater) in what was the equivalent of a theatrical community block party.
Noting that Barbara Siegel, your co-columnist, was chairperson of this year's DD Nominating Committee and a member of the Drama Desk Board of Directors, one or both of us had the opportunity to talk with a wide variety of celebrities at the party. John Kander, Rupert Holmes, Raoul Esparza, Jerry Mitchell, Liev Schreiber, Frank Langella, Kevin Spacey, etc. were all gracious and warm in their appreciation of the honors bestowed upon them with their nominations. But the moment that we most want to recount was running into Sarah Nina Hayon, who was nominated for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in the three week run of Rearviewmirror Off-Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. She said, tearfully, "I have no agent. I'm not even Equity. How did you find me? This has changed my life!" For all of us, it was a party. For Sarah Nina Hayon it was Cinderella at the ball.