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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Legally Blonde’

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“Legally Blonde” at the Saroyan? Meh. I give it half a snap.

The slighter the show, the more essential it is to beef it up with powerhouse performances and sheer stage appeal. (A slick and substantial production design doesn’t hurt, either.) I don’t think anyone would deny that the romp-silly “Legally Blonde” is thin when it comes to the story department (Heather Hach’s frantic book has to cram an expansive, airy Hollywood movie script into its confines) and that the songs (music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin) are for the most part unmemorable (except for the robust and hummable “Omigodyouguys” opening number and the terrific first-act closer, “So Much Better”).

What has to drive this show, then, is a Laura Bell Bundy — the Broadway actress who grabbed hold of the role of Elle Woods and through a workout-caliber portrayal of sparkle and grit transcended the so-so material. That doesn’t happen in this non-Equity national tour, which continues tonight at the Saroyan Theatre. Nikki Bohne, in the role of Elle, certainly wins points for burning off a lot of calories. She hits (most of) the right notes, is vivacious and personable. But despite a standing ovation by the audience for her efforts at Tuesday’s opening-night show, hers wasn’t a performance that made this show magical.

The scaled-down production design for the tour didn’t help. (Neither did the sight of stagehands standing in the wings stage right, at least from where I could see sitting near the center of the theater, waiting to roll the beauty-shop set piece off.) One iconic moment from the Broadway production got completely lost: In the first-act finale, when members of Elle’s “Greek Chorus” join her on stage as she belts out the “So Much Better” anthem, should be on a bridge behind her when they turn to spell out “ELLE WOODS” in block-lettered sweatshirts on their backs. In this stripped-down version, the chorus simply walked on stage behind her and had to do the effect standing at her level. It was sort of like staging the Eva Peron balcony scene in “Evita” without the balcony. I’m guessing the bridge was cut for budget purposes. Not a smart move.

The sound and some of the vocals were issues, too, at the Saroyan. From where I was sitting, the sound seemed shrill at times, especially in the first act. And while Bohne can belt, she was occasionally off pitch — with “So Much Better” being the most noticeable.

There are fun moments in the show. The costumes (from the Broadway run) are expectedly sharp — and quite pink, of course, at least for Elle. Jillian Wallach is a fun, charismatic (and well voiced) Paulette, the beautician who takes Elle under her wing after Elle gets into Harvard Law School. (Wallach’s “Bend and Snap” scene is a highlight.) Nic Rouleau, as the earnest Emmett, comes closest to warming up the show in terms of its humanity. (His “Take It Like Man” song, set in an elite department store, is likewise a keeper.) And Shannon Mullen, as the exercise magnate, Brooke, who is accused of murder, is a standout in terms of vocals and comic timing.

Still, this production felt wobbly to me. It certainly didn’t match the stellar tour of “The Color Purple” that last played the Broadway in Fresno series. The show is a good outing for hardcore “Blonde” fans, I suppose. But the verdict for the rest of us is pretty much a hung jury.

Responses to "THEATER REVIEW: ‘Legally Blonde’"

Kathy Mahan says:

I totally agree, Donald. I thought the singing in the first half was all overt he place. There were some really pitchy parts. But, that aside, the show is really fun and the some of the one-liners are fantastic. The jump-rope scene was pretty impressive. I thought the Brooke character was the best performance overall.

Dominic says:

I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. There were a few sound problems such as the mixing of the band and the vocals that made it hard to understand lyrics (especially the new lyrics for “Ireland” which were, in my opinion, horrible in comparison to what we hear on the soundtrack). Many of the songs keys were lowered to fit the vocal ranges of the actors, which kills me, and they were indeed pitchy. However, that Paulette can belt can’t she?!

I think that Brook was a standout as well, the jump rope scene was awesome! I have to say though, the Professor was really bad. He didn’t do much for me singing wise and looked young enough to be a student, or at least he did from my seat in the balcony. Lastly, I think the second act took too much time to wrap itself up. It took forever to close the show and once you thought it was over they threw another song at you haha.

I think if you’re a season ticket “purist” who wants a life-changing theatre experience to remember for the rest of your life, skip it. But if you want to spend a few hours getting away from daily troubles, like I did, and just have fun then it’s totally worth it.

JSS says:

Saw the show last night. Horrible and embarrassing! The only bright spot was the lead, who seems to channel Reece Whitherspoon quite well. It’s such a thin story and poorly written, forgettable music and lyrics, that I can’t believe it ever made it to New York! Save your money and go see “Next to Normal” in San Francisco this month. Now THAT is a show worth seeing! As a season ticket holder I have been quite disappointed with the selection of shows in the Fresno Broadway series the past few years. In fact, I did not even buy season tickets last year. The only show i bothered to see was AVE Q, which was great. They need to step it up on the quality of shows they are choosing, esp so many of these non-equity tours, they can be sub-standard. I know they snagged WICKED this year, and that’s great, but they passed on SPRING AWAKENINGS to get LEGALLY BLONDE !!??

(Reposted from comment thread for “To-Do Tonight: Legally Blonde.”)

James says:

I didn’t think it was that bad – but I didn’t think it was that good, either. I agree with JSS, that the Nikki is a standout. The show hit a stride after a few songs, but it declined again towards the end. I just couldn’t get into the score, and found myself distracted by dancing and movements that were out of sync. Also, if I hear OHMYGODYOUGUYS one more time, I’m going to hurt myself.

(Reposted from comment thread for “To-Do Tonight: Legally Blonde”)

RL says:

I personally enjoyed it alot and it was exactly what I was hoping for. It’s a check your brain at the door show and to that end it succeeded for me. To the sound issues, friends and I were talking about how the sound at intermission, particularly when the cast was singing as a whole and individual diction, and a stage hand overheard us and specifically asked where we were seated and what our problems were. It was nice to know that the company was paying and those involved were paying attention.

Mary says:

I thought everything was passable. I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that others had a problem hearing the lyrics though – I seriously thought something was wrong with my hearing! I wish I’d had the advantage of being able to completely understand the lyrics – would have made for a more enjoyable experience.

Kristin C says:

I had a great time at last night’s show. I would never have known the difference in the ELLE WOODS moment if you hadn’t brought it up, having never seen the show anywhere else.
The only thing that bothered me was the lighting. Every time anyone stepped into the line of the Grand Drape their face was out of the light.
We were sitting back in row Z, so fortunately we missed all of the exposed stagehands – that drives me nuts!

Ricardo says:

I saw this show when it first came to Broadway and loved it then and loved it now. For this being a non-equity tour I thought the talent was quite good and Nikki Bohne stole the show as Elle. She had great comedic timing and man she has some pipes. I completely disagree with the comments that she was off pitch in any way but hey everyone has their opinion. The sound system did create a few problems so when I asked someone after the show about that they explained how each theatre is different and it takes at least one night to get the new venue down, etc. Anyway 2 thumbs up from me and the group that went with me. We thought this was a very high quality production especially when compared with the shows I’ve seen here in the last yr or so.

Anonymous says:

The keys were lowered in order to accomodate the size of the orchestra. The Broadway production had a full orchestra while this tour has an 8 member pit. The London production (which is lower) is written for a small pit which is why the writers chose to set this tour with those orchestrations. Also it keeps it consistent and up to date with the London production that is currently running and very successful.

Kellie says:

So Much Better was in the original key, so I don’t think it was altered for the actors. Anonymous is probably right and it had to do with the orchestra or something. And the show is doing really well in London, so maybe it was a good idea. I really liked it in Fresno!

I went to see it with my boyfriend two weeks ago and he loved it he just said “it was ok” but I saw him laugh at times and eyes shining lol But yep Legally Blonde is definately a must see Musical its not too stereotypical and actors are good especially Susan:)