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Wednesday, January 14,2009

Barely 'Legally Blonde'

Sugary musical leaves out the little substance of source material

by Mary C. Cusack


The opening number of “Legally Blonde The Musical,” now playing at the Wharton Center, features a cadre of sorority girls squealing, “Omigod You Guys” (an actual song title, which translates in English to “Oh my god, you guys).

That one line pretty much summed up this writer’s reaction to the whole experience. As in, “Oh my god, you guys, how did this play get nominated for a gaggle of Tony Awards?”


The play is based on the movie of the same name, which was a successful — albeit formulaic — fish-out-of-water comedy with an underlying theme of female empowerment. The musical follows the same formula, but it replaces plot development and moments of true warmth, emotion and gravitas for song and dance numbers.

In an attempt to win back her boyfriend, blonde bombshell and Malibu fashionista Elle Woods follows him to Harvard Law School. Once there, she works her way into an internship with a professor that allows her to take part in a major murder case. Punctuated by pink accessories, cute puppies and Playboy Bunny costumes, many laughs ensue.

Although Christmas is over, it’s hard not to feel like a Grinch surrounded by the happy Whos in Whoville, all bobbing their heads and clapping wildly after each song.


But you can’t begrudge all the Cindy Lou- Whos in the audience. They provide a sizable amount of emotional blackmail, these beaming girls eagerly clutching their pink spiral-bound notebooks and fur-topped pencils, just like their hero, Elle. This is a cue to the critic to lighten up and judge the play for what it is: escapist entertainment.


“Blonde” fans are in for a true casting treat during the Wharton run. While touring lead Becky Gulsvig is sidelined with an injury, a stroke of good luck placed original Broadway lead Laura Bell Bundy in the area, and she assumed the lead role. On opening night, fans were fanatical, and Bundy’s performance was flawless.

The choreography is loose, fun and sometimes challenging, as with the athletic number “Whipped Into Shape,” which is by the Gwen Stefani-esque Coleen Sexton as fitness-guru Brooke Wyndham, the widow accused of killing her husband. Moving seamlessly from a video workout to a jail workout, the cast whips jump ropes around like lethal weapons.

Supporting cast members Cortney Wolfson, as Elle’s friend Serena, and Ken Land, as Professor Callahan, stand out. Their acting and singing were tight and savvy.

If only the material lived up to the talents and exuberance of the cast. Aside from “Blood in the Water,” a biting and cynical indictment of what it takes to succeed in the legal business, the music is typical for the current state of the genre. The melodies are all vaguely familiar; the lyrics suffice to tell the story.

Without a doubt, the show oozes joy, with beautiful people, flashy choreography and an efficient and pleasing set. Everything is slick and smooth and goes down like a dose of Pepto Bismol, coating, soothing and protecting  the viewer from two hours and 15 minutes.


Legally Blonde The Musical
Through Jan. 18
7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Wharton Center
$30-$68
1 (800) WHARTON
www.whartoncenter.com


 

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