Remember candy? The colored marshmallows in Lucky Charms, or the Peeps at Easter? Or – best of all – cotton candy from the circus? Those fluffy pink clouds of spun sugar sold on sticks seemed like an endless supply of sugar and sweetness. They were sweet, sticky, and – of course – pink. The Palace Theatre is serving up a large portion of the theatrical equivalent in the latest screen-to-stage Broadway production, Legally Blonde – The Musical.
Adapted from the hit 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon, it tells the story of Elle Woods, a perky sorority queen fashion merchandising major from California who, on the night she expects to be proposed to, is dumped by her boyfriend Warren for not being “serious” enough. Refusing to take no for an answer, Elle follows Warren to Harvard Law school, where she experiences academic, social and legal challenges and learns some valuable life lessons outside of the classroom.
Girl power and pride in oneself was the underlying theme of the movie and managed to translate well to the stage, thanks to an amusing book and some very clever song. Those hoping for a faithful interpretation of the movie will be surprised, as certain aspects of the plot have been altered to suit the stage. Some characters are fleshed out in greater detail, while others are tightened or even eliminated altogether. What results is a strong company of seriously likeable characters that support a heroine whom one can’t help but cheer for.
The show opens in Elle’s sorority home where she and her sisters sing the surprisingly powerful anthem, “Ohmigod You Guys,” as Elle prepares for what she thinks will be her engagement dinner. While the chorus is repetitive, it pokes humor at itself, conscious of the extremities it is setting to music and the cast does the same. As Elle, Laura Belle Bundy self-consciously satirizes herself, aided by her superbly strong vocals and physical acting skills.
While at Harvard, Elle befriends hairstylist Paulette (played with an admirable bravado by Orfeh), a lonely woman fresh from a bad relationship. Her friendship with Elle helps her boost her self-esteem and results in her learning the eye-catching move, the “bend and snap.” The musical number is one of the highlights of the second act, largely due to Orfeh’s performance, which seems to defy all limits of both energy and vocals.
Elle also befriends her professor’s aide Emmet (Christian Borle) who helps her with her studies and quickly develops a crush on the bubbly blonde. Borle, who was last seen in numerous comedic roles in Spamalot puts his ample charms and rich vocals to work both at the textbooks and romancing his classmate. Other standouts in the supporting cast include Michael Rupert as Professor Callahan, the poised Kate Schindle as Vivienne, and Andy Karl doubling as Paulette’s ex-boyfriend and the studly UPS man that she lusts for. His brief walk across the stage inspires her to utter the incredibly accurate comparison of him to “walking porn.” Karl maximizes the comedic potential of his role, swaggering and strutting with every step he takes across the stage.
The result is bubbly, frothy and fluffy – but with a slight edge. While the cast is obviously putting their entire selves into their performances, they maintain slight edge throughout the show. Somehow, it does not take itself as seriously as one might expect. Sly jokes are inserted throughout the script, such as a clever Lassie spoof takes place when Elle’s friend Margot is told by the Chihuahua Bruiser, “She’s trapped in the Old Valley Mill? I mean, Mall?” or when Emmet refers to his golden-haired classmate as, “Little Miss Woods comma Elle,” a line that Reese Witherspoon delivered flawlessly in the film when registering at Harvard. Another surprisingly successful spoof comes from Elle’s sorority sisters, who serve as a Greek chorus throughout the show, giving advice and commentary on Elle’s escapades.
The happy ending is inevitable, and it is wondering how it will take place that keeps the show going, as well as the underlying themes of beauty – both inside and out. Elle is a beautiful woman who happens to possess an undeniably sunny disposition. And while she knows that being beautiful isn’t everything, it doesn’t hurt either, resulting in her giving Emmet a makeover at her hallowed hall – a department store. Girl power – or rather, self empowerment – is what is supposed to shine through these characters, and at times that shine is dulled slightly by the overpowering physical beauty of the cast, which performs high-energy choreography and some very suggestive dance moves that might surprise the teen and tween audience that will inevitably be drawn to the box office, as well as their parents, who might be less than willing to cheer for the show’s heroine. They might be surprised, though. There are moments when the sweetness is too much, and some mouthwash or a toothbrush might come in handy, but the majority of the audience will leave the theatre without a stomachache.