Reviewed by David Spencer
If any of this sounds like damning with faint praise, that's not my intent. The praise is all sincere.
That said, Legally Blonde is unequivocally a packaged musical, as surely a product of corporate gestalt as the various "fun park" shows that have thundered their way out of the Disney mill—though this one bears the stamp of MGM Onstage. It honors its franchise cleanly and authentically and gives the audience exactly what it wants and expects: a rousing good-time pop-accented show exploiting the characters and situations from the film about the not-so-vapidly blonde Elle Woods who follows her not-so-true love to Harvard law school and there discovers her own empowerment.
The film (scripted by the here-uncredited Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, based on a novel by Amanda Brown) is a sort of fast-food date comedy, and the musical that has emerged is a fast food date play. It hits all its marks expertly, but in the grand scheme of things, not memorably or resonantly. And I think this is because it's missing the idiosyncrasy of its own unique voice. Oh, to be sure, it boasts an energetic, hip-with-the-times style and a vocabulary, in script, score and production, that is entirely suited to the tale, but in shaping these the creative team have aimed, like a heat-seeking missile, at the language of current populism. So even at its most thumpingly entertaining, there's a constant familiar feeling to it all.
But that said, the missile does find, produce and explode with heat, and none of Legally Blonde is achieved without a great deal of intelligence. The husband-wide songwriting team of Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin have managed to infuse pop styles of music with compact and literate lyrics that not only exploit the comic characters to good effect, but communicate large swatches of story (no easy feat); Heather Hach has likewise written a nicely streamlined book, and if her sitcom roots show, well, they're not out of place. And if the directoral energy evokes Hairspray (the musical, that is), director choreographer Jerry Mitchell did the dance honors for that one too.
And you can't complain about the cast: Laura Bell Bundy has the requisite Buffy-ness needed to hold the center,; Richard H. Blake as the ex-boyfriend seems born-to-be-boorish; Christian Borle as the better boy is the smarter Xander; Orfeh, who has always been a powerhouse belter in lesser shows, at last proves herself a similarly take-no-prisoners comedienne in the role of Elle's mentor-hairdresser; and Michael Rupert—once Broadway's best Pippin, and once ripe for the roles played by the Mssrs. Blake and Borle—is now (ironically) the closest the show gets to an elder statesman, slyly giving the unsentimental law professor a shark spin as memorable as James Spader's Alan Shore.
I just wish it all felt more, I don't know, substantial. And I don't know how "substantial" would be made manifest with this material, because of course you wouldn't want to distort it or bend it out of shape with inappropriate solemnity of purpose. I just know that if it had been achieved, you wouldn't leave the theatre thinking merely that they'd musicalized the movie well.
It's a blonde experience in more ways than one...