“Oh. My. God. Oh my god, you guys!” Keegan Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde is so over-the-top, fabulously fun – the perfect sweet treat on a sweltering DC summer evening.
For those who are wondering – how do you take a beloved 20-year-old movie and translate it to the stage in a way that both appeases the film’s fan base (me) while adding enough new material to breathe new life into the story? The answer is by adding a series of smart, wickedly sassy songs packed with puns and tongue-in-cheek humor (music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin).
For the uninitiated, Legally Blonde is the story of Elle Woods (Gabriella DeLuca), a life-sized Malibu Barbie who has it all: looks, wealth, status (president of her sorority, Delta Nu) and the perfect boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Kaylen Morgan), a dashing Brahmin with a swoon-worthy physique and a trust fund to boot. Just as Elle is gussying herself up for a wedding proposal, Warner summarily dumps her. He’s off to Harvard Law School and Elle isn’t “serious” enough for him or his prestigious New England bloodline. She’s too, well, “blonde:” “more of a Marilyn than a Jackie.” Elle doesn’t take it sitting down: with some serious studying and an ostentatious “personal essay,” she earns her own spot at Harvard (“What, like it’s hard?”) and a chance to “steal the b*stard back.”
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The 2001 film (starring Reese Witherspoon) is ripe with tongue-in-cheek humor – Elle a caricature of the “Valley Girl” stereotype. Completely self-absorbed, she cares more about her man and her manicure than any future career. Yet, even though the film is intended as playful humor, there are aspects that make it unpalatable 20 years later to a more engaged, empowered generation of young women. In spite of her eventual evolution, Elle is still “rescued” by men in several instances and the women of the film are pitted against each other to win the affection of men, and the ultimate prize – marriage.
Heather Hach’s book for the stage version smartly modifies some of the more troubling plot points, fleshes out several of the female characters and their interpersonal relationships and literally calls out the assumptions that might make modern women cringe. At one point, a (delightfully added) “Greek” chorus of women proclaims to the heavens in mock joy, “now that a man chose you, your life begins today!”
Director Ricky Drummond dials up the campiness with fun sight gags and asides to the audience, all played for laughs. Ashleigh King’s choreography is a delightful mix of showy “classic Broadway” dance numbers and, of course, an homage to the “bend and snap.”
Legally Blonde from Keegan Theatre Company closes September 8, 2019. Details and tickets
DeLuca, as Elle, is as charming as her film counterpart, but with more of a backbone – cute and perky, yes, but never silly or vapid. With a clear, strong soprano voice, DeLuca is never shrill and brings an impressive amount of stamina to the frenzied, exuberantly-paced production.
Other stand outs in an overall impressive cast include Janine Sunday as Paulette, Elle’s friend and manicurist whose brash comedic style and spot-on “Southie “Boston accent kept the audience in stitches. Greg Watkins is delightfully pompous as Callahan, Elle’s “hands-on” professor, his voice gorgeously rich (and just slightly evil) in Blood in the Water.
The show’s few ballads feel a bit awkward – an afterthought forced into an otherwise gleeful, slaphappy score. While Noah Israel (as Elle’s new love interest, Emmett) has a plaintive croon that nearly melts the audience into their seats, these contrived moments of “serious romance,” feel out place.
Already into its second extension (until September 8) Legally Blonde is a true audience pleaser. Grab yourself a pink cocktail, practice your ‘bend and snap’ (works every time) and enjoy.
Legally Blonde. Book by Heather Hach. Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Directed by Ricky Drummond. Assistant Director Alexis J. Hartwick Music Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy. Choreographer Ashleigh King. Stage Manager Amanda Horne. Set Design Matthew J. Keenan. Lighting Design Jason Arnold. Costume, hair and makeup design Alison Samantha Johnson. Featuring Melrose Pyne Anderson, Rachel Barlaam, Victoria Clare, Selena Clyne-Galindo, Robbie Duncan, Lawrence Hailes, Noah Israel, Amber Lenell Jones, Amanda Kaplan, Julia Klavans, Emily Madden, Kaylen Morgan, Stephen Russell Murray, Dana Nearing, Solomon Parker III, MK Sagastume, Anna Maria C. Shockey, Janine Sunday, Greg Watkins, Lucas the Yorkshire Terrier and Roux the French Bulldog. Produced by Keegan Theatre. Reviewed by Meaghan Hannan Davant
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