Music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Book by Heather Hach. Based on a story by Amanda Brown. Directed by Valerie Easton. A Theatre Under the Stars production. At Malkin Bowl on Wednesday, July 10. Continues in rep until August 17
This production of Legally Blonde is a giant-size Gucci bag stuffed with talent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Theatre Under the Stars production so deeply well-cast and fully realized. It’s a blast from start to finish.
Based on the Reese Witherspoon movie, which was drawn from Amanda Brown’s book, Legally Blonde tells the story of Elle Woods, who gets dumped by her boyfriend, Warner, just when she thinks he’s going to propose. Warner, who’s heading off to Harvard Law School, wants “somebody classy and not too tacky”. Determined to win him back, the finger-snapping, positive-thinking Elle, who has a 4.0 grade-point average—in fashion merchandising—brushes up her SAT score and lands a spot in Harvard law herself.
Bimbos are the most appealing clowns the goddess ever invented, and Elle is a classic bimbo. Because they’re innocent and effervescent, bimbos look foolish at first, but their hearts are true and, in their most moving variations, they turn out to be wise. (If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and watch Judy Holliday in the 1950 movie Born Yesterday.) Elle, one of the smart ones, soon realizes that she can use her unique perspective and legal smarts to do good.
The musical has fun with girlie airheadedness. The first song is titled “Omigod You Guys”. And the show revels in Elle’s pop-culture acuity. When she suspects that one of the players in a murder trial might not be as straight as he claims—because he’s not interested in her ass—the entire courtroom breaks into Legally Blonde’s best number, which asks the musical question “Is he gay or European?”
Breanne Arrigo knocks it out of the park, more or less literally, as Elle. A powerful belter with great comic timing, Arrigo never loses sight of the character’s emotional truth. Peter Cumins makes a golden-voiced, charmingly caddish Warner, and Scott Walters balances that with his openhearted work as Emmett, Warner’s geeky rival for Elle’s heart. (In bimbo stories, there’s always a cad and a geek.)
As Brooke, the exercise queen and murder suspect, Katie Murphy aces the ridiculously difficult “Whipped Into Shape”, and Warren Kimmel, one of the best musical-theatre performers in town, delivers an authoritative performance as Callahan, the nasty law prof. Andrea Bailey plays Vivienne, who starts off as the mean girl in law school, and even in ensemble numbers you can hear the impressive power and range of her voice. In this deep talent pool, Marissa Dunbar, Emily Henney, and Synthia Yusuf work it like there’s no tomorrow as Elle’s sorority sisters.
Director Valerie Easton deserves huge credit for casting this production so well, for polishing it so beautifully, and for delivering crazily sassy, infectiously energetic choreography.