Elle Yeah: An Unsinkable Heroine Makes The Case For Legally Blonde The Musical

Legally Blonde The Musical” arrives in Boston a week before a Presidential election — smack dab in the middle of an economic downturn — just days before we turn the clocks back to begin the Hub’s version of perpetual darkness — and somehow the timing couldn’t be better.  Sometimes, serious times call for a frivolous show and LBTM is a sparkling, pink package of positive vibes.

The movie “Legally Blonde” didn’t exactly set a new standard for Hollywood romantic comedy — and you could say the same thing about this musical version.  Both productions were smart enough to trust in the skills of a talented cast to pull off a pretty standard fish out of water tale.  Reese Witherspoon set the template for sorority girl turned law student Elle Woods in the film — Becky Gulsvig grabs the pink pumps, and adds a song and a dance (or two or three) in this satisfying national tour version.

Gulsvig manages to channel Witherspoon, with a pinch of Kristin Chenoweth, and still bring us an Elle of her own making.  Without spoiling the bear trap of a plot for you, Elle is jilted by her college boyfriend  when he heads off to Harvard Law School.  Undaunted, Elle hits the books and dazzles the admissions staff, and gets herself a slot in the bastion of Brahman learning — but can this L.A. blonde find love and happiness on the banks of the Charles?  Yeah, I really don’t care either, but there’s gotta be some story to keep the songs from bumping into each other.  Gulsvig doesn’t let the plot points get in her way either, she’s here to dazzle every kid who ever dreamed of scoring a lead role in a Broadway musical.  She delivers on every count, great voice, good dancer, excellent comic timing.

In an odd way, LBTM succeeds by never trying to be more than what it is.  This isn’t high art or groundbreaking theatre — it’s show biz.  The two Harvard alums who wrote the music and lyrics, Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, were smart enough to keep it simple.  The songs, with the exception of the opener, “Omigod You Guys” pretty much fade from memory right after the final chorus.  The clever ones like “Ireland” ( a Lord of the Dance send-up) stick with you because of the inside jokes.  O’Keefe and Benjamin cut their teeth with the Hasty Pudding gang, and they do much better with snark than with sentiment.  They clearly understand the tone of the movie, and don’t try to re-invent the experience with the stage version.  Enhance yes.  Expand no.

The supporting players in this Elle-athon are quite fun to watch.  Natalie Joy Johnson is a scene stealer in all the good ways as Paulette — the beauty shop manicuristwho keeps getting nailed (sorry) by lousy guys until Elle “Bend and Snaps” her out of it.  Johnson fills up her crazy wardrobe and loopy lifestyle with heart and sass.

Maybe that’s why Paulette’s love interest, Kyle the UPS guy is such a plus in a small but hilarious role.  Ven Daniel packs a lot of personality into those brown shorts.  His macho posing is a hoot and a half.

The sweet, but bland role of Elle’s new found Harvard love, Emmett lands in the capable of D.B. Bonds.  He seems a touch old for the part (I’d put him in his mid-thirties rather than mid-twenties) but it’s not a major issue.  He has a nice tenor, and goofy sincerity.  A little more edge to his earnestness might have helped.

Other plus factors are Ken Land’s smarmy Professor Callahan and Elle’s Greek Chorus of sorority sisters that guide her along in her Bay State adventures.  The costumes are well done, but the stage design is a bit thin.  Color bars that frame the stage brighten things up but don’t add a whole lot.

In the end though, it’s all about Elle and because Becky Gulsvig is so engaging you forgive all the little sins.  Sure there are teachable moments about being true to yourself and defining your own happiness, but LBTN is mostly a guilty pleasure.  Still, after the October we’ve all just suffered through, I must confess — I really enjoyed it.  The show plays at the Boston Opera House through November 9th.

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