Legally Blonde

Saturday, January 27, 2007 (preview performance)
Golden Gate Theatre
San Francisco, CA

Elle Woods   Laura Bell Bundy   Paulette   Orfeh
Emmett Forrest   Christian Borle   Professor Callahan   Michael Rupert
Warner Huntington IIII   Richard H. Blake   Vivienne Kensington   Kate Shindle
Serena   Leslie Kritzer   Margot   Annaleigh Ashford
Pilar   DeQuina Moore   Chutney/Kate   Kate Wetherhead
Leilani   Becky Gulsvig   Cece   Michelle Kittrell
Kristine   April Berry   Gabby   Beth Curry
Enid/Veronica   Natalie Joy Johnson   Judge   Amber Eft
Mom/Whitney   Gaelen Gilliland   Grandmaster/Chad/Dewey/Kyle   Andy Carl
Winthrop/Dad   Kevin Pariseau   Carlos   Matthew Risch
Nikos/Padamadan   Manuel Herrera   Aaron/Guard   Noah Weisberg
Bruiser the dog   Chico   Rufus the dog   Chloe

When I first heard that a musical was being made based on the movie Legally Blonde, I knew I wanted to see it. I loved the movie (the first one -- I honestly don't remember if I've even seen the second, mainly because sequels rarely live up to the original), and I know of Laura Bell Bundy from Wicked.

First impressions: very, very funny. The nature of the story and setting pretty much dictated that this was going to be a comedy, like the movie, and there was no deviating from that. The script is mostly very different from the movie, but there are a few very memorable moments from the movie that they preserved (more on that later). Laura Bell Bundy pulled off portraying Elle Woods -- with the challenge of living up to Reese Witherspoon's caliber of "blondeness" but still preserving a good deal of emotional sensitivity, but she also made Elle her own character. (I was even very tickled by how much of her Glinda was visible.)

The strongest elements of the show (in the state that it was in when I saw it) were staging and choreography. I was very impressed by the clever sets and use of stage space. Starting at the UCLA Delta Nu sorority house and then settling down in the Ivy League nobility at Harvard University, the backdrops very easily set the stage for the various scenes. The ensemble effort was also very impressive, especially since there are so many people in the ensemble.

Areas that need some work: lyrics and score. (Dialogue was wonderful, and at times very clever and comical.) Neither were particularly outstanding to me, and there wasn't much about either that was memorable. One exception was "Omigod You Guys" which stood out because it is very different in content and tone from your typical musical number. There were a few songs that didn't fit the character that was singing it or they felt a little out of place. "Chip on Your Shoulder" and "Take It Like a Man" were two songs that fell into this category. "Chip on Your Shoulder" particularly had lyrics that were not particularly special, and the first half of the song didn't really have a clear direction of how it was helping the story. The second half was good because it illustrated Elle developing her drive to succeed as a law student, if only to get back at Warner. "Take It Like a Man" I understand was to help develop Emmett and Elle's friendship, but the fact that it spent the entire time in a department store with Elle picking out a new outfit for him just felt like it felt even more like a paperweight than any of the others. It felt more unnecessary than anything.

And I hate to put it this way, but almost all the songs sound the same. Like I said before, there wasn't anything particularly memorable about the melodies -- and maybe they weren't supposed to. Many of them have pop culture influences, and they sounded like the lyrics were more important -- except they weren't particularly memorable either.

Another part of the story that bothered me was the part of "What You Want" featuring Elle's admissions essay. First it was a little strange to have Elle and an entire Delta Nu entourage show up at Harvard and perform a very elaborate drum line. And then when they asked Elle why they should admit her to Harvard, she simply said it was because of love, and appealed to one of the admissions officers about doing anything for love. That was just a little too cheesy for me and not an argument strong enough to believably convince them to admit her.

I had a problem with the way the scene played out where Callahan hit on Elle. I think they just needed to write it in a way that dwells on it just a bit longer because it pretty much all went by in a flash. He was leaning on a table, motioned for Elle to sit next to him, flattered her very briefly, then kissed her (rather than feeling her up). Both Vivienne and Warner happened to walk by just then. Elle slapped Callahan, and then all of a sudden he dismissed Elle from the internship. There was no further escalation of Elle's realization about Callahan's intentions. And then as Elle was leaving Callahan's office, both Vivienne and Warner accused her of using her sexuality to get the internship and whatnot. All of that happened way too fast.

But it did lead up to a great emotional moment when Elle decided to leave Harvard, and ran into Emmett outside of her dorm room. There was a good deal of anguish between them as he tried to get her to stay or even tell him what she was so upset about. (Unlike the movie, she did not tell him Callahan hit on her.) It all played out very well with just Elle's door in the middle of the otherwise empty stage.

I certainly understand the need to revise the storyline and take out some characters for the musical because it would have been too cumbersome otherwise. I kind of missed not having Professor Stromwell, especially since she was pivotal in getting Elle to stay at Harvard after Callahan hit on her. Instead, in the musical, it is Vivienne who is covertly at the Hair Affair to convince Elle that she has to stay. That played out a little strangely, simply because there wasn't anything to make Vivienne question that Elle was flirting with Callahan to get the internship. It just seemed like all of a sudden, Vivienne realized Elle was not that kind of girl.

Another thing I missed from the movie: one of the best moments where Elle was talking to Paulette before leaving to go back to California, and saying something to the effect of, "No one ever takes me seriously. All everyone sees is a piece of ass." And she didn't believe that would ever change. It's a very sad moment, but it really did help develop the pivotal point when she decided to stay and prove that she was much more than that. I'm not saying the musical has to follow this progression exactly, but the sequence of events in the musical right now doesn't have nearly the emotional impact that the movie did.

Other than those areas that need some work, I still thoroughly enjoyed the show as a whole. As I said, they preserved some of the movie's most memorable lines. My favorite is when Warner sees Elle at Harvard, and says, "You got into Harvard Law?" and she responds, "What, like it's hard?"

They also preserved the scene regarding the sperm donor wanting visitation rights for his child, which mostly identical to the movie, and it played out very well on stage.

Some other observations: