Playwrights: Heather Hach, Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. At: Ford Center/Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph. Tickets: 312-902-1400; . www.BroadwayInChicago.com; $32-$95 Runs through: June 7. Photo by Joan Marcus
The good news about Legally Blonde the Musical—at least for fans of the hit film—is that it's faithful to the flick without being a slavish shot-by-shot reproduction a la Dirty Dancing. It also boasts a fine, energetic and deliciously attractive cast headlined by the knockout Becky Gulsvig as Elle Woods. There are only two major changes from the film. First, Elle's UCLA sorority sisters pop up throughout the musical as an in-her-mind Greek chorus. Broadway ensemble folk are paid the same whether they appear in one scene or 10 scenes, so the producers are getting their money's worth. Second, the important gay plot twist in the murder trial near the end is turned into a big production number.
The bad news is, why bother? Except for several of the character numbers, the score is bland Broadway rock, with one song undistinguishable from the next. David Rockwell's scenery is colorful and constantly in motion but is ordinary with a capital "O"—neither beautiful nor innovative. The choreography by Jerry Mitchell ( who doubles as director ) also provides constant motion and athletic musical staging but very little dance per se and nothing to make one say "Wow!" Music, scenery and dance all serve the story well enough, and certainly move it along swiftly in Act I, but they don't captivate, dazzle or charm. If the score and choreography don't have a distinctive stamp to them, why bother spending big bucks to create a musical? Answer: shameless commerce. Legally Blonde the Musical is an easy extension of a popular title with built-in audience recognition.
Gulsvig gives a stand-out performance as Elle, but isn't given a stand-out song to sing. The distinctive numbers chiefly go to worthy supporting players, among them sexy "older" Ken Land as Professor Callahan singing the lawyer's credo, "Blood in the Water." As Emmett, Elle's mentor and eventual love interest, D.B. Bonds scores with "Chip on My Shoulder" and also with the shopping song ( with Elle ) , "Take It Like a Man." Notably, both songs work to deepen the lead characters and their relationship, unlike most of the score. Principal female support comes from Natalie Joy Johnson as earthy hairdresser Paulette who lands the UPS stud ( mighty-thighed Ven Daniel ) .
Sure, it's all good, clean fun. Even "Is he gay or European?" in the big trial scene is a funny idea before it descends to gay/lesbian stereotypes. Gay can be funny without resorting to clichés. You'll have to decide whether you find such portrayals offensive or acceptable within the show's sitcom context. And what does Nikos the pool boy have to do with the murder? Why's he there at all?
Legally Blonde the Musical isn't bad; it just isn't very special.