A Perfect Guilty Pleasure Musical In ‘Legally Blonde’
If anyone is in search of a fun-filled musical theatre indulgence to put on their schedule for this weekend—or needs a reminder that actually, blondes have feelings too—then it’s a good thing that Legally Blonde is parked for the weekend at West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center.
Based on the well-known movie, this thoroughly enjoyable musical follows the story of Elle Woods, a blonde pink-obsessed college girl whose life as a typical carefree sorority sister takes an unexpected turn when she is dumped by her preppy boyfriend Warner Huntington the 3rd for not being “serious” enough to spend the rest of his life with. So, after studying her butt off, she improbably ensures her admission to Harvard Law School, the next stop on Warner’s path to what he hopes is a senate seat.
Though she’s ostensibly about as privileged as it gets, being not only blessed with good looks and great hair but with a Daddy who can easily foot her tuition bill, here, she somehow becomes the underdog, a ditzy fish out of water in a land of ambitious brains. But, with some help from her sorority sisters, who join in throughout the story as a “Greek chorus,” and a few other kind souls she meets along the way, she eventually learns and then proves that she is a lot more than just a pretty face.
As evidenced by its staying power, this story seems to be well on its way to becoming a timeless one, and since the film’s 2001 premiere, Elle has also become something of an iconic character, as was attested to by the abundance of women I saw dressed in her signature color throughout the Kravis Center. And though few would call this show substantive, as guilty pleasures go, the sheer entertainment value of most every musical number definitely ensured that it more than satisfied my sweet tooth.
Shakespeare it may be not, but it’s mostly-innocent fun without being too clean, with a few raunchy jokes thrown in about Elle finding the pleasures of succeeding at school so “much better” than her intimate encounters with Warner and about a sexy UPS guy’s suggestive “package.”
As a long-time fan of the show who’s seen at least two prior productions as well as the filmed MTV version, I also found this edition to be on at least a comparable footing with those I’ve previously enjoyed. Leading lady Hannah Bonnet perfectly captures Elle’s effervescent spirit, and other standouts included Ashley Morton as the brash Paulette, James Oblak as pretentious pretty boy Warner, and Chris Carsten as the shark-like Professor Callahan.
A gifted ensemble injects endless life into the rest of the show’s vibrant supporting characters, and frequent musical numbers flowed effortlessly, each seemingly more amusing than the last.
While the characters here mostly come in broad archetypes, they’re also easy to understand and to care about, which gives even the show’s lone ballad (which is also the title song) enough of a genuine impact to justify its stage time, and the central romance that eventually emerges evolves into a genuinely touching relationship. Surprisingly clever jokes adorn the dialogue and lyrics, many lifted from the movie but a few new to the scene, and the show also does a great job of initiating us into Elle’s perspective and thus giving stakes to her slightly silly plight.
The show has also been tweaked a bit to better suit the modern era, with an old Richard Simmons reference updated to refer to Timothée Chamalet and exercise guru Brooke Wyndham now being portrayed as a Tik-Tok rather than video star and referring to a community of followers rather than fans. In another change I noticed (having also kept the show’s soundtrack in my rotation for quite a bit) I noticed that one moment in which Enid is insulted by Callahan for being a “woman” rather than a “lesbian,” which seems to me a positive attempt to soften the show’s treatment of her sexuality.
This brings me to one of the few points against the show I can point out—that some of its barbs against more marginalized characters felt more like poking fun at than was quite comfortable. And though there were a few people of color in the ensemble who stepped in to play minor roles, the overwhelming whiteness of all of the show’s leading players was eventually hard not to notice. Though one could argue that at least, that Elle’s race and privilege is a critical part of her character because her arc involves learning about the world beyond her limited horizons, a prominent recent London production showed otherwise, and it’s hard to imagine the already effective message of the show relays about looking beyond appearances and being true to one’s self not gaining poignancy from this sort of change.
Meanwhile, there are other prominent characters who strike me as an even more natural fit to cast non-traditionally. So while I hope future productions of Legally Blonde feel free to take a few more liberties with convention, it is the kind of dependably endorphin-inducing show that I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more times as time goes by. Check it out for yourself before this May 21!