Implausible and predictable as it was, the 2001 film “Legally Blonde” succeeded primarily because of the on-screen charms of Reese Witherspoon. While the 2007 stage musical adaptation that premiered in 2007 was Reese-less, it too succeeded, relying on a dependable formula of cleverness and corn.
Legally Blonde The Musical is based both on the movie and (like the film) a novel by Amanda Brown. Brown’s experiences at Stanford Law School were the inspiration for those of the Malibu Barbie named Elle Woods, who after being dumped by her Harvard Law School-bound boyfriend Warner, finagles her way into Harvard herself. There the antics ensue and the maturation of seemingly vacuous Elle takes place.
New Village Arts in Carlsbad has opened its new season with Legally Blonde The Musical (book by Heather Hatch; music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin). NVA’s is a true ensemble effort, with no one member of the cast (even Danielle Levas as Elle) owning the production. That includes the potentially scene-stealing dog Monty (aka Rufus), one of two canines with stage time.
The merit of Legally Blonde The Musical is its often laugh-out-loud lyrics which spoof the shallowness of wealth, contemporary relationships and the stuffiness of bastions of protocol and self-importance like Harvard. The beautician subplot from the film is carried over, with Marlene Montes memorable as the wisecracking but issued Paulette. The recurring presence of Elle’s “muses” chorus (specters of her sorority sisters) adds sauciness and choreography to the proceedings.
While the first act of Legally Blonde The Musical is, despite its length, tightly woven, the show goes rather off the rails in Act 2, with the gyrating “Bend and Snap” in particular interrupting rather than moving along the story. The case Elle is trying, too, wraps up so conveniently it raises the question of what all the pretrial fuss was about.
This is quibbling. Legally Blonde The Musical is, like its screen predecessor, eye and ear candy ideally suited to a girls night out or a first date. When a show comes with funny lines, beautiful clothes (designed by Samantha Vesco), a fine band (directed by Tony Houck) and a couple of dogs, what’s to complain about?
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 8/1/18.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat