Based on the film starring Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde: The Musical follows the adventures of Elle, a fashion-conscious, determined college student whose life plans are disturbed when her trophy boyfriend, Warner, dumps her on his climb up the social ladder. Following him to Harvard Law School, hoping to win him back, she ends up empowering herself on her own terms.
Hart House Theatre’s production, staged with kinetic buoyancy by Saccha Dennis, has plenty of pep and style.
It’s a frothy tale with a charming feminist thrust. I particularly love how valuable Elle’s superficially materialistic interests turn out to be. Her knowledge of hair care, social graces and fashion reveal deeper insights into people and their behaviour. And Elle, reframing her goals as she overcomes obstacles, discovers her own worth.
I’m not particularly fond of Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin’s songs for this musical. They serve their purpose in the telling of the story, and are engaging enough when staged, but I have no desire to seek-out the soundtrack. Gregory Carruthers’ choreography, though, ensures the numbers are jaunty and bustling.
With the outline of a sorority house as a backdrop, Holly Meyer-Dymny’s set employs some clever, modular pieces that establish location—Elle’s dorm room, a courtroom, a hairdresser’s shop—and fold up into giant make-up cases that slide in and out as needed. Kathleen Black’s costumes add another layer to this cartoonish reality with elegant, eye-catching outfits. This champagne and bubble-gum aesthetic is completed by David DeGrow’s boldly colourful, high contrast lighting.
Emma Sangalli has the bright-eyed confidence and warmth to capture that plucky verve that makes Elle Woods so iconic. And she’s compelling enough to avoid being upstaged by the live, adorable pug that fills two doggy roles in this show.
As class buddy turned love interest, Emmet, Ethan Vasquez Taylor finds a sympathetic balance between the self-assuredness and bashful quirks that make him endearing.
The highlight for me was Moulan Bourke’s Paullette, Elle’s sassy confidante who runs a beauty parlour. Not only is her number, “Ireland,” my favourite in the show, but her kinetic, brassy presence is total Broadway. She’s that character who, no matter how caught up you are in Elle’s plight, makes your giddy heart dance when she’s back on stage.
Warner’s a cad and we’re meant to hate his opportunistic dumbass-ery, but Elle’s tale would be more complex if we understood what drew her to him in the first place—other than looks. But in the film and this musical, he’s really just a plot device to get her into law school. John Carr Cook is appropriately smarmy, but the material gives him little chance to rise above his character’s function.
Opening night’s audio was fraught with mixing issues. In most full-cast numbers, individual vocals were hard to hear over the music. And I’m somewhat baffled by the choice to have the conductor clearly visible centre stage. Placed underneath an upstage archway, silhouetted against a brightly lit backdrop, my eye was consistently drawn to him. Perhaps it was required by some logistics of production, but I found it quite distracting.
As is the case with any adaptation, there are gains and losses in Heather Hach’s book for this musical. I sorely missed the tough-as-nails yet nurturing character of Professor Stromwell (my favourite from the film), but having Elle be the one to propose to Emmett is a refreshingly progressive switch.
Though it lacks that solid, polished punch to really knock you out, this production is well-conceived, with some stunning moments of thrilling spectacle.