Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Legally Blonde: A musical tribute to clever women

California Musical Theatre photo

Based on a movie, in turn based on a novel, “Legally Blonde the Musical” is clearly a crowd pleaser. The opening night audience virtually flew to its feet for a standing ovation at the end. But the production is a rare example of a show that thrills audiences while turning off many critics. Ben Brantley of The New York Times, for instance, called it an “expensive-looking hymn to the glories of girlishness.” The review praised the leading lady because “she sings and dances flawlessly, and she delivers silly lines as if she meant them.”

Produced by California Musical Theatre and directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, “Legally Blonde” has a book by Heather Hach, with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin. It stars Becky Gulsvig as Elle Woods, the blonde of the title; Gulsvig also had experience in the Broadway production. She’s supported by a large and able cast.

The action starts with a shock for Elle, who is president of UCLA’s Delta Nu sorority. She expects a marriage proposal from her elite boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Jeff McLean). Instead of proposing, he breaks off their relationship, clumsily explaining that he’s looking for someone “serious.” After a long sulk, Elle decides to win him back by following him to Harvard Law School. Though at first rejected, she gains admission by convincing the authorities that she’s motivated by love, as expressed by her chorus of supporters in the song “What You Want.”

Her troubles continue when the hard-nosed Professor Callahan (Ken Land), egged on by Warner’s new girlfriend, Vivienne Kensington (Megan Lewis), kicks Elle out of his class. But visions of her Delta Nu classmates, acting as a Greek chorus, revive her spirits through the song “Positive,” urging her to stay positive. Her next step takes her to Paulette (Natalie Joy Johnson), a sprightly beautician who dreams of Ireland while singing “Ireland,” and dissauades Elle from dyeing her hair black.

Rejected again in her attempts to win back Warner, Elle drops her pursuit and defeats him in a classroom debate, to the tune of “Chip on My Shoulder.” In the meanwhile she encounters an attractive fellow student, Emmett (D.B. Bonds), and the first act ends when she learns that, along with Warner and Vivienne, she’s chosen for a coveted internship by Professor Callahan. The act ends with the song “So Much the Better.”

The second act involves a murder case that challenges Callahan and the interns, with a side story involving a comic romance between Paulette and a UPS delivery man, Kyle (Ven Daniel), whose sexy walk almost walks away with the show. Of course there’a a happy ending, which I’ll avoid giving away.

With 20 original numbers, a cast of 27 and a 13-member orchestra, the lavish production is a banquet for the senses though a holiday for the brain. Still there are subtle artistic touches, like the ubiquitous Greek columns in David Rockwell’s scenic design. Thus it echoes the double-edged theme of the seriousness of learning and the frivolousness of sororities (and fraternaties) with Greek letters.

“Legally Blonde the Musical” continues through October 11 at the Community Center Theater, 1301 L Street, Sacramento. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 to $65, on sale at the Wells Fargo Pavilion box office (1419 H Street), the Community Center Box Office, on line at www.tickets.com or by phone at (916) 557-1999 and 808-5181, or (800) 225-2277. Call (916) 557-1198 for group orders of 12 or more.

For more information go to http://www.broadwaysacramento.com/ or http://www.legallyblondethemusical.com/.

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