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Legally Blonde: The Musical

by Harker Jones
Tuesday Jun 27, 2017
Legally Blonde: The Musical

The 2007 musical "Legally Blonde," based on Amanda Brown's novel (but really based on the 2001 hit rom-com starring Reese Witherspoon) received seven Tony nominations when it moved to Broadway following its San Francisco premiere. Hailed as, if not quite a masterpiece, a tremendously entertaining production, the show endeared itself to audiences on both sides of the pond. Maintaining the daffy charm of the film, the musical succeeds on both its buoyant lead character and fantastic roles for the supporting players.

Arri Leigh plays Elle Woods, a ditzy but not stupid sorority girl from UCLA who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard to win him back. There she's met with derision and East Coast snobbery, while she strives to prove herself with trademark verve. Leigh commands the stage with perfect ebullience, infusing Elle with soulfulness, giving her depth in her simplicity.

Elle is a frothy character that can easily be played as silly, but the trick is believing in her as a full, real person so that she's never witless despite her bubbliness. She has to be complex so that we don't laugh at her, but with her. And Leigh brings all of that to her performance.

Her sorority sisters, Margot (Adelle Panico), Pilar (Thurzday) and Serena (Kelly Hancock), follow Elle to Harvard as a Greek chorus, visible and audible only to Elle, offering support and a lot of fantastic singing. The three women have energy to spare and bring down the house.

Caroline Wilson as Vivienne, Warner's new girlfriend, is perfectly cast, nailing old-money elitism and pretension like she was born in the purple. David Samson, who plays Emmett, the law professor's teaching assistant, had only two days' notice that he had to go on, and you would never know he hadn't been trained in the role for months. He didn't miss a beat.

The entire ensemble pulls very considerable weight on quite a small stage for such an over-the-top production. The Cupcake Theater is known for putting on huge, Broadway-level productions in a relatively tiny space. How director Thomas Adoue Polk and choreographer Rehyan Rivera can fit so many performers on that stage with dancing (and in this show's case, even some jump roping) is a marvel.

The set design by Robert Broadfoot and some excellent costumes accentuate the characters and the tone of the production. Mostly by being pink. But preppy Vivienne and working-class manicurist Paulette (standout Kristen Pickrell) are also attired in ways that inform us about their characters in subtle ways. Kudos to Costume Designers David Callander and Kristen Pickrell.

With music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Hach, the production is lively and charming, just like the film. The opening number, "Omigod, You Guys!" is catchy and silly and enthralling, and "Bend and Snap" is a straight-up joy. Not every number is a classic, though. Some songs, like "Chip On My Shoulder" by Elle, Emmett and the Greek chorus, just aren't remarkable enough to stand out.

The character of Chutney (a fantastic Kelsey Nisbett) is introduced a little too late to have the impact she should have, and the moment when Elle shows up as a Playboy bunny at a party she was told was a costume party is muted. While it should cause a stir and lead to some sympathy for her, it never really lands.

Those are minor quibbles, though, in a show that, while a bit of a trifle, is joyous and well produced. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more fun night out.

"Legally Blonde" runs through August 6 at the Cupcake Theater, 11020 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601. For tickets or information, call 323-391-3416 or visit CupcakeTheater.com.

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