Rough justice

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  November 5, 2008

From Cinderella to Pygmalion, fairy tales have made good musicals. And what is Legally Blonde if not a fairy tale? Heartbroken Susie Sorority studies up, gets into Harvard Law School, and morphs into Ruth Bader Ginsberg without breaking a nail, a sweat, or her alarming addiction to pink. But Legally Blonde the Musical (at the Opera House through November 9), the efficient aerobic entertainment built on the 2001 Amanda Brown novel and Reese Witherspoon film, is pretty mechanical stuff. At least Becky Gulsvig, the Elle Woods of this first national tour, looks like Witherspoon. (Well, maybe she can't open letters with her chin, but there's a soupçon of a point.) But she lacks the glint that allowed the movie's Elle to appear as if she might actually be smart rather than just hot and sincere.

Whether or not its Elle is a buyable brain, the musical itself has been savvy enough, parlaying a filmed version aired on MTV into the reality show Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods (a couple of whose finalists are in this touring cast). But I expected more from Harvard-educated Bat Boy composer Laurence O'Keefe, whose previous musical protagonist blossomed from half-bat into Beaver Cleaver crossed with Alistair Cooke without losing his pesky craving for blood.

Like that earlier show, Legally Blonde (which boasts lyrics by O'Keefe's similarly Hasty Pudding–honed wife, Nell Benjamin, and book by Heather Hach) winks at Broadway, including among its tongue-in-cheek accouterments a Riverdance number hatched out of Elle's beautician friend Paulette's crush on the Chippendale-worthy UPS man, who here is Irish. But most of the music is generic pop, the film's already exaggerated characters are pushed into cartoon, and the pun of the title is pumped up into a full-blown ballad of dejection — from which Elle quickly recovers with a steroid shot of self-esteem. Hey, don't listen to me, diehard fans of the franchise: I didn't like Wicked, either, even when the pink one was on top.

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