School daze

Legally Blonde charms at PPAC
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 25, 2008

HARVARD-BOUND: Gulsvig and friend.

"Winning Ways: Legally Blonde's almost-leading ladies," by Bill Rodriguez
How strange, that Legally Blonde didn’t hit the Broadway stage before it got to the big screen. The storyline might as well have a yellow brick road and a wizard at the end, it’s so musical-friendly, as is being peppily demonstrated at Providence Performing Arts Center (through September 28), where the national tour is starting out.

Propelled by songs more briskly and efficiently than spoken words could in the movie, Legally Blonde — The Musical is the tale of Elle Woods (Becky Gulsvig, in marvelous voice and fetching personality). She’s a can-do sorority sister who, dumped by her boyfriend in favor of someone more serious and less risky career-wise, proves herself big-time — at Harvard Law School.

Is this all a larky celebration of post-feminist feminism or just a lark? Elle follows her boyfriend to Cambridge, after all. But, on the other hand, she does come across as a kind of Wonder Woman in pink. Hmmm . . . .

Well, as a musical it’s goodhearted, boisterous fun, but don’t expect more than shorthanded motivations and chapter headings in lieu of a well-developed story. But then you weren’t expecting Anna Karenina — The Musical, were you?

Ironically, Legally Blonde is a celebration of social outliers who learn to love themselves by being themselves, their banner carried by a cultural stereotype who is envied by many. Elle is a Malibu Barbie doll, a Delta Nu princess with a 4.0 major in shopping (well, fashion merchandising). When that boyfriend says he needs a Jackie and she is more of a Marilyn, she vows to get serious, though to her that means “wearing black when no one’s dead.”

You know where all these characters are coming from, and the songs — sometimes very funny, sometimes place-keepers — usually tell you where they’re going. (Music and lyrics are by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin; book is by Heather Hach, based on the novel by Amanda Brown; direction and choreography is by Jerry Mitchell.)

Since the story is formulaic, even it can be made fun of in the songs. When her boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Jeff McLean), is singing “Serious” and she joins, he stops her and the music with, “Uh, honey, I’m not finished.” The most memorable song, “Blood In the Water,” is led by a law professor (Ken Land), declaring he’ll soon separate the sharks from the chum.

Of course, at law school Elle meets a guy who helps channel her spunky energy in a positive direction and recognizes her best abilities. Emmett (D.B. Bonds), a hard-working third-year student who becomes her mentor, grew up in the slums of Roxbury, “With my mom and a series of bums/Guys who showed me all the ways a man can fail,” as he explains in “Chip On My Shoulder.” Elle is befriended by someone else on the other side of the cultural tracks, Paulette (Natalie Joy Johnson), a hairdresser, whose version of mooning over Warner is dreaming she’s in Ireland. Again, breezy lyrics blow away any hot air: “In Ireland they know how to love you/You embrace in the misty Irish breeze/And if your Irish boy tires of you/You’re allowed to shoot him in the knees.”

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  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Harvard University, Harvard Law School,  More more >
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