[Totally, Like,] No Objections to Legally Blonde [!]

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legally blonde cast

The film version of Legally Blonde: The Musical (2007), which plays at Neptune’s Fountain Hall until May 26th, came out in 2001. I remember watching it as a seventeen year old when it came on television once, scornfully musing about how DRASTICALLY important it was for Hollywood to produce yet another teen movie about a ditzy, skinny, blonde girl and how she ends up with (surprise!) the world’s greatest guy. “Where is the movie about the brown haired girl who loves Merrily We Roll Along and writes novels and goes to graduate school and writes a novel that Oprah chooses for her book club who also happens to end up with the world’s greatest guy (but not in a way that compromises her own awesomeness and her dedication to her career and her future and her nerdiness, but that compliments it equally and with respect and brings forth a tribe of awesome nerd children with brown hair and glasses)??!!?!?” I asked (myself) as I continued to watch Elle Woods’ story unfold. Yet, upon a closer examination, Legally Blonde: The Musical actually has refreshingly strong feminist undertones. While still masquerading as a light, frothy, fun, theatrical romp (which it is all those things at their best), it also sends an inspiring message about the importance of girls rallying in support for one another, of girls privileging not only their brains, but their unique self, over their external facade and advocates for resisting the urge to judge or stereotype others based on a perception of femininity shaped for us by the media.

Elle Woods is a blonde sorority girl from Malibu whose signature color is pink. She has a Chihuahua and he not only wears pink clothes he also wears a pink pillbox hat. When her “perfect” boyfriend Warner breaks up with her after getting accepted to Harvard Law School because she is not “serious” enough Elle is devastated enough to resolve to get into Harvard Law herself to win him back. The musical’s book by Heather Hach is a faithful adaptation of the 2001 film, capturing its Sorority Girl spirit and adding a cheerleading “Greek chorus,” which insures that Elle is surrounded by girl power even in the throes of the dark, ominous halls of Harvard. Since the musical chronicles Elle’s entire first year there are times when story arcs feel a bit rushed, especially centering on Elle and Warner’s relationship. Warner feels consistently underwritten as a character, which makes it challenging for David Cotton to give him much more depth or humanity than a Ken doll. Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s music and lyrics capture perfectly the bubblegum pop ambiance and like, omigod, the totally psyched and like, super melodramaticerized verbosity of the characters. The songs are dangerously catchy, perfect to dance to and continually propel the action forward. Yet, the songs also explore some interesting ideas. “Positive,” for example, shows how Elle has been conditioned to compare herself with others, cat fight with girls over attention from boys, and use her sexuality as a means to steal a man away from someone else. It also explores how this behavior has been oddly skewed by our society into visions of positivity and even empowerment. “Chip on My Shoulder,” on the other hand, examines the philosophy that if one is not outraged, she is not paying attention, and suggests that being passionate and dissatisfied with the world (having a chip on one’s shoulder, as they say) instigates far more positive activism than blissful ignorance.

The Neptune Theatre production boasts of a strong cast of triple threat performers. The choreography by Chad McNamara is mesmerizing with its specificity, energy and strength. Naomi Costain’s number as Brooke, a Fitness Queen charged with murder, “Whipped Into Shape” is a highlight of the show with its synchronized skipping that made me exhausted just watching it. Nicole Power, as Serena, and Mary Antonini, as Pilar, are also continuously mesmeric to watch in the dance numbers as both give 400% every moment they are onstage and it makes them electric. Lili Connor is hilarious as Enid, one of Elle’s colorful Harvard classmates. Graham Coffeng and Konstantinos Haitas both have brief, but delightful, character moments as Dewey/Kyle and Nikos respectively. W. Joseph Matheson is a bit reminiscent of Jerry Orbach in Chicago as shark baiting Professor Callahan, simultaneously ruthless, smooth and shady. Daniel Greenberg is wonderfully charming as Emmett, the sometimes sheepish teaching assistant who teaches Elle the importance of a strong work ethic and encourages her to fall in love with being a lawyer. Janna Polzin is a firecracker as Vivienne Kensington, Warner’s Harvard girlfriend and Elle’s arch nemesis. Her biting, haughtiness never feels forced or false and when it melts, it does so with nice subtlety and subtext. Polzin does not get to sing nearly enough in this role, but when she does her powerful belt soars through Fountain Hall like a home run baseball. Liz Gilroy is joyful exuberance abound as Paulette, who has been looking for love in all the wrong places. She sings the show’s most classic “musical theatre” ballad, a beautiful and wistful heart-on-sleeve love letter to Ireland and battered dreams and it cements Paulette ardently to the audience’s heart for the rest of the show. Lindsey Frazier brings Elle Woods to life with so much fervor and panache; she is 22 year old Kelly Ripa on Speed, she is Barbie meets the Energizer Bunny. Her pop vocals rival Mariah Carey and she gives Elle a sweet vulnerability that allows her to root herself in something much richer than a stereotype from a blonde joke.

I am still uncertain why George Pothitos resists having his actors cheat out when they are standing parallel to the audience facing one another, especially when one has giant hair, as it makes it impossible to see both actors’ faces.

Since the film version of Legally Blonde was released in 2001 the messages that the media sends our young girls have become increasingly appalling and our society becomes increasingly misogynistic in a myriad of terrifying and subtle ways. While I still await the blockbuster about the brown haired Sondheim aficionado, Legally Blonde: The Musical is an interesting mixture of blithe silliness and feminist star power that is quite refreshing in the American musical theatre.

So, like, omigod, you guys, get your tickets, like, right now before they, like, TOTALLY sell out or whatever!

Legally Blonde: The Musical plays at Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall (1593 Argyle Street, Halifax) until May 26, 2013. Shows are Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $20.00-$69.00 (depending on seating). For more information please visit this website or phone 902.429.7070. 

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