Palace Theater, 1564 Broadway at 47th StI
Intelligence and a delicious sense of camp are essential to float a story as potentially vacant as this. Neither of these qualities abounds in superstar choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s staging of this musical adaptation. The box office-smashing, 2001 cinematic version of Amanda Brown’s novel is a keystone in a much loved legacy of “girl-power” inverse feminism. Empty-headed women overturning stereotypes to discover authenticity and self-worth are guaranteed comedy and a great strategy for sugar-coated subversion, assuming that one has a fresh angle on your subject.
There’s nothing new here; Legally Blonde, is as shallow and harmless, as its protagonist would appear. The buoyant music and lyrics are fun, and the laughs are warm and predictable. If cozy, white, middle-class, American values are your thing, Blonde won’t disappoint. As Elle Woods, Laura Belle Bundy heads the attractive and energetic ensemble; her passable simulation of Reese Witherspoon is consistent but does little to secure the audiences sympathy. Elle’s journey of discovery and self-validation underscores a trite and predictable plot peopled with likeable yet broad characterizations. We feel nothing, but it’s a sweet little nothing. There are no stand-out performances; even Orfeh’s lauded fairy-godmother interpretation of Paulette—Elle’s hairstylist and spiritual inspiration—seems formulaic.
The orchestration succeeds best at its most cinematic and whimsical moments and songs like “The Harvard Variations,” Paulette’s signature tune “Ireland,” and “There! Right there!” are charming, smart numbers that give the actors a chance to shine. During a particularly amusing, sung courtroom debate as to whether a particular witness is “Gay or European?”, the ensemble cast has some great moments hinting at a goofy but precise sense of delivery sadly absent elsewhere.
Personally, the most satisfying element of this show is scenic designer David Rockwell’s Malibu Barbie inspired confection of fuchsia-infused cross-sections materializing and drifting about the stage and cast in an almost dance-like fashion.
Pleasing to the eye and well intentioned, Legally Blonde is sure to become a tourist favorite and exasperate critics. The joke is lost from the moment the curtain rises, but nothings going to wipe the smile off this perky little show.