I loved the movie “Legally Blonde” with Reese Witherspoon. She’s been a favorite actor ever since I saw her in “Election” as a completely focused high school girl determined to win the student body election. Matthew Broderick played the hapless teacher/student body council advisor who was completely undone by his student nemesis.
As Becky Sharp in “Vanity Fair”, a favorite novel of mine by William Makepeace Thackery, (I just love the triple name that has Makepeace as the center) Reece played a desperately poor lower class charity student who was determined to be accepted into high society and to have all the perks that the genteel girls she went to school with did. She was not afraid to use every woman, and especially every man, since they were so much more malleable, to get ahead.
In every one of these productions, the characters she played were smart, clever, very ambitious and had steel-cased determination. And Witherspoon with her perky, heart-shaped face and deceptively weak and impossibly tiny frame had embodied all these qualities. You felt that her opponents were up against someone who has rebar instead of bones. You could see the determination in her face as she relentlessly tried to engineer her fate.
Add to those reasons the fact that, in a movie, you can easily see every emotion in the numerous close-ups, it was with a little trepidation that I looked forward to “Legally Blonde The Musical”.
I need not have worried. One reason that Witherspoon was so good in those roles, apart from her natural talent, is that the productions were so well-written. The well-written part certainly was here in the musical. From the “Omigod, Omigod, You Guys” opening number, the Delta Nu sorority girls bounced along with Becky Gulsvig as Elle Woods in her pursuit of her narrow, 1950s-ish dream of getting married to the “perfect” guy, Warner Huntington III, oil-ily played by Jeff McLean.
Remember in “My Fair Lady” when Professor Higgins is crowing about the social victory he achieved when Eliza fooled his former student, the Hungarian know-it-all, who “oiled his way across the floor”, and you have an idea about Warner’s character. To be honest, though, McLean played him as more of an easily influenced and waaay over his head politically ambitious, socially inept cad.
On the eve of what Elle and her Delta Nu sisters know is her marriage proposal day, Warner dumps Elle because he has to marry a serious, politically and socially connected east coast girl he will meet at Harvard Law School, who is obviously not Elle whom he perceives as an Malibu Barbie airhead. After all, her degree is in fashion merchandising (sneer when saying fashion merchandising.)
Elle sets her mind to passing the LSATs so she can be considered for admission to Harvard, where she is convinced she will be able to get Warner to reconsider. When forced to admit that she is failing, she goes to get her hair dyed brown (so she can be considered serious).
There she meets Paulette (Natalie Joy Johnson), a hair dresser who talks her out of making a serious “hair decision” based on hopeless LOVE. Paulette’s fantasy Irish love story leads to a masterful step dancing number and her song “Ireland”.
Johnson is wonderful in her part. She is a good dancer and singer, and as the funky Paulette, she does not adhere to the Barbie perfection of the Delta Nu girls. The loss of her beloved Rufus, her bulldog her bullying common law husband-boyfriend has kept from her, is Paulette’s greatest sadness. Of course, Elle has an answer and gets her dog back. When Paulette has the hots for the UPS delivery man Kyle (Ven Daniel), Elle shows her the “Bend and Snap” technique of getting attention. And let me tell you, Daniel was a very good Kyle. When he strutted on and off stage, he earned laughter every time and when he came on for curtain calls at the end, he earned a standing ovation. He made very effective use of the dancer’s perfect body and his planed cheek bones.
As Elle recognizes that, if she applies herself, she can be good at law, that the scorn of Warner’s new fiancé Vivienne (Megan Lewis) is not a death knell, and that she can earn the respect of her predatory professor (Michael Rupert) she turns a corner and becomes the scholar she never knew she could be.
Elle’s sorority sisters show up all through the production, as the Greek chorus to her inner doubts and later cheer her on as she begins to see success. The sorority sisters are so bouncy, they are like Tiggers on super big springs. Tiffany Enger, Rhiannon Hansen, and Candice Marie Woods are wonderful caricatures of California good humor, fashion smarts, quick reactions and serious tans. The Delta Nu girls are all around good friends. When Elle waits for Warner to propose to her, they support her. When Elle decides that she wants to leave Harvard and go home to lick her wounds, they support her. When Elle defends fitness guru Brooke (Megan Lewis), and they find out Brooke is also a Delta Nu, they support both of them.
A few other actors needing mention are Lucia Spina as Enid , a law student suspected of being Lesbian because she is not the “normal” beauty and D. B. Bonds as Emmitt, the teacher’s assistant to Professor Callahan who appreciates, supports and falls in love with Elle.
I have to say, the book by Heather Hach and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin were excellent. They took the movie and added elements to support the story and songs with witty lyrics to add to the development of Elle Woods and her friends. The choreography and direction by Jerry Mitchell made for such a fun and funny production. The costumes by Gregg Barnes showed each character’s identity before they even opened their mouths. William Berloni who trained Bruiser (Elle’s Chihuahua ) and Rufus (Paulette’s bulldog) did remarkable work. Don and I were both impressed by Bruiser who was quiet when he needed to be and incessantly yipping and yapping when appropriate, and he stopped immediately when touched on his nose. From personal experience with that breed, I would say that was a miracle, or perhaps the owners of the dogs we know just did not train them enough, or correctly.
The show is so funny and so much fun, please, go see it. It will give your laughing muscles a workout. It seemed to be especially popular with the young girls in attendance and it was entirely appropriate.
“Legally Blonde” runs through March 14 and for ticket information, go online at or call the 5th Avenue Theatre box office at 206-625-1418.
Omigod, omigod, you guys, the next 5th Avenue Theatre production is “On the Town”, presented as part of the Seattle Leonard Bernstein Festival. “On the Town” is one of my favorite movies, about three sailors who have just 24-hours leave in New York City and the wonderful women they meet during their day. If the 5th Avenue can do as well with “On the Town” as they did with “Legally Blonde”, I’ll go several times to see it, and, I have no doubts that they can. It runs from April 11 to May 2; I’d recommend getting tickets now.