Jurisprudence and fastidious hair care come together in surprising ways in “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” the movie-inspired stage show at Theatre Arlington.
Who knew that the world of torts and briefs could be this much fun?
The 2001 film version of this show, based on a book by Amanda Brown, starred Reese Witherspoon and was a hit with audiences and critics. This musical version, with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, and a book by Heather Hach, opened on Broadway in 2007 and garnered a slew of Tony nominations (but no wins). It closed after a modest 18-month run but, in the wake of that somewhat early departure from the Great White Way, it seemed to find a second wind with a London production, national tours and, now, presentations by regional and community theaters.
Theatre Arlington’s outstanding production makes a real case for this show. It charms and impresses on almost every front.
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In case you missed the movie, “Legally Blonde” follows the impeccably coifed and attired journey of UCLA sorority girl Elle Woods (Avery Gray) from the changing room to the courtroom. When we first meet her, she seems, like, totally shallow, vacuous and incapable of caring about anything that does not directly relate to how she looks and dresses. She is wild about fellow student Warner (Branden A. Bailey), but he is about to take off for Harvard Law School. Because he thinks Elle would be as out of place in his new world as Clarence Darrow would be at a fashion show, he dumps her before taking off for Boston.
Elle is crushed, but it turns out that our spunky heroine does not give up easily. She puts on her big-girl panties and vows to do whatever is necessary to get into Harvard Law as well. And, much to everyone’s surprise, she does — perhaps because the picture she includes with her application seems to have more of an impact than the 4.0 GPA she carries as a fashion merchandising major.
So she bursts onto the scene at stuffy Harvard with her faithful chihuahua, Bruiser, in tow and sets herself to the task of winning back Warner. The rest is just singing, dancing and laughter, with a few flashy courtroom stunts along the way.
Gray, who is a musical theater major at TCU, carries this show without showing the slightest hint of strain. Her attack is a bit too sharp in some of her numbers but, overall, her singing is excellent. She also fully absorbs and projects Elle’s complicated personality with thoroughness and consistency.
There are also a number of excellent performances in the supporting roles. Lori Woods contributes some show-stopping vocals and plenty of humor as Elle’s hairstylist, Paulette. Bailey also has an outstanding voice. Jordan Justice (who should probably be ashamed of auditioning for his show with a name like his) is highly sympathetic and tuneful as Emmett, a teaching assistant in one of Elle’s law classes who would like to see her become a partner — either in a law firm or in his life. Kyle R. Trentham is appropriately vile and oily as Elle’s arrogant professor.
The rest of this young cast universally answers the bell with real energy and verve, whether it is in a brief solo, a dance number or in the super work done by the choruses. Even the two dogs, Bruiser and Rufus, are real troupers.
This production also soars thanks to the fluid direction of Adam Adolfo, the former artistic director at Artes de la Rosa. He has done a superlative job of preparing his players. Thanks to his efforts, and those of choreographer Austin Ray Beck (who also plays a couple of roles), this show zips along with a breathless drive that greatly enhances its comic aspects. The show’s big production numbers are particularly well-executed. It is hard to believe that Beck is still a theater and dance student at UTA.
While the work of everyone we see sparkles with regularity, this production falls way short in two major areas: the singers are supported by recorded music, and its overall look does not measure up to the other components of the show.
There is really no set to speak of. There is a set of stairs here, a bed and desk there, and an almost complete beauty shop that suggest locations in Anthony Curtis’ design. But a great deal of the show is played on a bare stage. There is a screen at the back that could be used for projections, but none are employed. Instead, it is just sporadically washed in some colors, and contributes almost nothing.
Ashley Peisher’s costumes also disappoint in some cases. In this show, the clothes should be eye-popping. But they do not always reach that level in this production. Worse still, they often seem poorly tailored to their wearers, bunching and gathering in unattractive ways. In a scene where Emmett is chastised for his “tattered corduroy” coat, he is sporting a jacket that is neither tattered nor corduroy. After he undergoes an onstage costume change at a department store to make him appear spiffy for court, he emerges looking like an unmade bed in a suit very similar to the one he just tossed. That sort of sloppiness in costuming would be a sin in any production. In this particular show, though, it is a cardinal sin.
But if you can tolerate the canned accompaniment and look past the look, this production has a lot to offer. Although I doubt it was the original intent, this show unites the fine theater programs at UTA and TCU in a most dazzling fashion.