Legally Blonde: The Musical

Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin; Book by Heather Hach
Palace Theatre, New York City
(2008)

Publicity photo

Our former Edinburgh reviewer, Rachel Lynn Brody, has moved back to the United States and is now giving us the occasional taste of US theatre.

In the film version of Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon’s warmth and good humour made Elle Woods a likable and sympathetic character, despite some, shall we say, lack of depth early on. On stage, Laura Bell Bundy doesn’t exude the same all-inclusive charm, but her performance still manages to reel in the audience, who were up on their feet with a standing ovation by the end of the performance.

It’s fair to say that Legally Blonde’s stage incarnation is a lighthearted, fun afternoon for those who loved the film; while the story of this Marilyn and her quest to become a Jackie is inspiring (and hits some great marks, such as the value of education and a woman’s right to choose what feminism means to her) on the most basic of levels, the lyrics and choreography are showy without being inventive. In fact, there are many points where the show seems carried along by the force of the music rather than the progression of the story; as if the songs are just the method by which the audience is guided through a million shades of pink scenery.

Until, that is, Michael Rupert steps on stage as Professor Callahan with the song, “Blood in the Water” – a deliciously nasty little tune about the attitude required of law students who want to become good – or is that bad?—lawyers. What appears at first to be recognition of Elle’s brains turns out to be only an appreciation of her other assets; Rupert’s ruthless and cynical outlook is the only real contrasts to Elle’s wide-eyed idealism, and even Elle's ex-boyfriend’s bumbling doesn’t make Warner (Richard H. Blake) a real antagonist.

In the end, justice prevails and Elle’s bid for Harvard winds up helping her move to a new place in her life – a satisfying conclusion for the hordes of teenage (and teenage-at-heart) girls who made up the majority of the audience.

So, kudos to the cast, crew and producers for a show which caters directly to its target audience. Injecting joy and energy into the theatre-going experience is definitely an important point for live entertainment. While the story and performances may not impress more seasoned theater-goers, in terms of introducing newcomers in a language they’ll understand and enjoy, Legally Blonde wins the case.

Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody