"Legally Blonde," the new musical, begins with a song called "Omigod You Guys" — and it’s one of the two best tunes in the show. Rodgers and Hammerstein (or their estates) don’t have much to worry about. Still, the joie de vivre spirit of that tune remains throughout the show’s two and a half hours, and it’s that tone that makes this lightweight story of a not-so-dumb sorority girl who "finds herself," by way of Harvard Law School, so appealing.
Based closely on the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon, the play, by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin (music and lyrics) and Heather Hach (book), is on its pre-Broadway run at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater in a Best of Broadway presentation.
Like the film, it’s a crowd pleaser. The jokes are genuinely funny, its young actors are good-looking and energetic, the dancing rivals what’s popular on TV, and the costumes and sets flash and dazzle to just the right extent. Topping things off, there are two live dogs. (Tuesday’s opening night audience properly oohed and aahed at each canine appearance.)
(Courtesy photo) From left, Christian Borle, Laura Bell Bundy and Richard H. Blake.
The vibrant Laura Bell Bundy plays Elle Woods, the Southern California college girl whose boyfriend dumps her atthe wrong time. In "Omigod" (a number reminiscent of "The Telephone Hour" from "Bye Bye Birdie"), she and her sorority sisters are giddy about the prospect of a proposal from the glossy Warner (Richard H. Blake). Yet Warner surprises Elle in the song "Serious"; he lets her know she’s not marriage material as he goes off to Harvard. In one hilarious moment as she tries to chime in on the ballad, he deliberately sings over her, telling her to wait.
In an attempt to win Warner back, Elle follows him to Harvard, directly to the classroom of a tough professor (Michael Rupert) who’s selecting students to be interns at his law practice. There she meets the low-key, level-headed law student Emmet (Christian Borle), who becomes her friend and mentor. In the show’s best, most heartfelt number, "Chip on My Shoulder," he tells her his hopes and dreams.
But hopes and dreams, and memorable melodies, are lacking in "Legally Blonde," which hits many of its jokes with clever lyrics (although there’s no shortage of gay, lesbian and, oddly, Irish-themed quips) but misses its heart.
‘’Bend and Snap," a charming tidbit in the movie, here is an overly choreographed number that belabors its point. The title song, which should be the highlight of the second act, fizzles. Not to worry, though. Things come back around for a reprise of "Omigod," the opener that introduced Warner and Elle as "just like that couple from "Titanic’ — only no one dies!"
Yes, despite its derivativeness and omissions, "Legally Blonde" has the makings of a hit.
IF YOU GO
Presented by: Best of Broadway
Where: Golden Gate Theater, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco
When: Daily except Mondays; closes Feb. 24
Tickets: $35 to $90
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