The music and lyrics, by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, and book, by Heather Nacht, successfully translate the appeal of the original, and are true to the storyline, even though some interesting changes are made as part of the adaptation. Along the way, the audience is re-introduced to all our favorite characters and the best scenes from the movie.
Our plucky heroine and her "never say never" attitude, the friendly sisterhood of the Delta Nu sorority, the skeptical reception at Harvard, the bend and snap camaraderie of the beauty salon and Elle's final triumph in court are all given a high-spirited re-telling in this adaptation. Michelle London is convincingly winning as Elle Woods, with a million watt smile and can-do personality that perfectly suits the show. Best of all, London isn't afraid to display a little sass and snap of her own in her portrayal, adding a personal stamp to the character without losing the essential Elle that movie fans have come to love.
London is ably supported by a strong ensemble cast, including Ben Nordstrom's charming Emmett Forrest; Heather Jane Rolff as the inimitable and loveable Paulette; Shannon O'Boyle, who brings depth and likeability to Vivienne Kensington; and the Delta Nu "Greek Chorus," cheerfully led by Melinda Cowan, Sarah Rolleston and Julia Johanos. The entire ensemble is quite large, yet even when everyone was on stage, it worked, creating a bustling energy rather than feeling crowded or noisy. Director Michael Hamilton successfully manages intricate stage movements, and his skillful maneuvering keeps the lead and supporting characters clearly in focus while developing a richly varied ensemble.
One of the most successful adaptation choices is the ensemble approach to both the staging and songs. Each character had individual nuances and quirks but still fit together like puzzle pieces, keeping my interest piqued, and London shines as Elle Woods, playing off the other cast members with ease. Most of the songs avoid long solos, focusing, instead, on delivering the story and propelling the show forward.
While none of the actors stood out as having an exceptional singing voice, they all harmonized together well, and the choreography, as recreated by Rusty Mowery, gave the entire production a loose, spontaneous feel. This ensemble approach complements the tone and attitude of the movie without being wholly derivative, and helps the musical to succeed on its own merit.
The plot revisions in the adaptation are less uniform. Some of the scenes work quite well on stage, such as the marching band accompaniment to Elle's Harvard application. Others, most notably the scene in the bathroom that sets up the denouement, were less successful. My niece and I both know the movie well and we were still confused by the latter scene. Luckily, the actors provided the commitment we lacked, keeping us in the moment until the scene resolved to another up-tempo song.
The carefree, lighthearted approach of the show is amplified by the clever set and lighting, designed by James Wolk and Matthew McCarthy, respectively. Each scene transitions seamlessly into the next, with fly walls and set pieces sliding silently into place as the actors move from one scene to the next. The lighting scheme is bold, playful and perfectly synced with the rhythm of the show. Finally, the costumes by Lou Bird add a whimsical finishing touch that acknowledges the fashionista-influenced design aesthetic. The theater has the space and technology to keep up with the action, a bonus for a constantly moving production like "Legally Blonde," and these elements work together to create an optimistic palette for the show.
From the opening chords of "Ohmigod you guys" to the "Find My Way/Finale" and curtain call, this show is brimming with optimism. The ensemble, under the musical direction of Lisa Campbell Albert, delivers the pomp and sparkle of the popular movie transformed into a fast-paced, played for laughs musical theater adventure.
"Legally Blonde" bounces with a youthful exuberance and is fun for the whole family, particularly those family members who enjoy extra sparkle in their entertainment. From the design to the ensemble to Ben Nordstrom's welcoming remarks, every aspect of this production mirrors the upbeat, always positive demeanor of our heroine Elle as she moves, with focused determination, through heartbreak and insecurity to success: the best possible revenge a girl can get.
Stages St. Louis production of "Legally Blonde" runs through August 18th at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood. The performance was sold out the night I attended. For more information: stagesstlouis.org or 314-821-2407.