After the runaway success of the film that starred Reese Witherspoon, it must have taken a lot of thought before the decision was made to produce a musical version of Legally Blonde. This is a show, like Hello Dolly, where success or failure will come from the casting of the leading role. In this case it is Elle Wood, a charismatic, beautiful blonde who leaves a college life of fun and games for the rigors of Harvard Law School after her boyfriend, Warner (Joel Ingram), dumps her when he decides he must study law and acquire a more responsible partner, Vivienne (Kristin Wetherington), to satisfy his parents’ aspirations for him.
Full marks to Gateway management for choosing Ruby Lewis to play this challenging role that keeps her on stage almost the entire show and demands the highest standards of singing, dancing and acting. Lewis has star quality, and the rest of the cast seems to thrive on her personality and high energy level.
This is a fun, upbeat show, tailored for the same audience demographics that enjoyed the movie, and the presence of many more young faces than usual in the audience shows how well this has worked.
The opening number, “O My God You Guys,” with a bevy of young college sorority girls, sets the scene with a tempo that rarely slackens. (Following all the words in the numbers throughout the show is not always easy, but then these are not the most memorable lyrics you will come across.)
For no particular reason, the cast goes into “Ireland,” a spirited takeoff of Riverdance, and in the second act the show moves into overdrive with a skipping number “Whipped into Shape,” followed by the provocative “Bend and Snap,” which displays even more of Elle’s talents. The surprisingly funny and politically incorrect number, “There! Right There,” in which the characters debate whether the pool attendant Nikos (Justin Flexen) is “European or Gay,” takes place in the courtroom where Elle is serving as an intern on the legal team defending Brooke Wyndham (Erin Henry) who is charged with murdering her husband.
In a sub-plot, Paulette (Ruth Pferdehir) is a hairdresser who is bowled over by the chunky UPS man Kyle, splendidly played by Matt Nolan, who almost steals the show. The other scene-stealers are canine: Frankie, Elle’s Chihuahua, is so sensitive that if your seats are in the front, the ushers will ask you to stay very still for the first five minutes of the show to avoid upsetting her. (I have to say that after seeing hundreds of shows over the years, this was a first.) Chloe, Paulette’s bulldog, is far more docile—almost having to be dragged around the stage.
Director and choreographer Tom Kosis has brought the talented cast members together to provide an evening of fun and great dancing. The conductor, Justin Fischer, works wonders with an orchestra hidden from view, and Robert Andrew Kovach’s sets are vividly original.
You are not likely to come out singing any of the songs from Legally Blonde, but you will almost certainly have a smile on your face!
Legally Blonde, at the Gateway Playhouse, Bellport, runs through July 9. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 631-286-1133. [/expand]