Story: Elle Woods has her life buttoned down and mapped out. She’s a proud Delta Nu sorority girl who has just graduated with a degree in fashion design from UCLA and fully expects to marry her long-time boyfriend, Warner Huntington III. So, it’s a shock to the system when Warner takes her to a fancy restaurant, where he informs her that he is dumping her in order to be with a more “serious” woman, Vivienne Kensington. The two of them are enrolled in Harvard Law School, so Elle is relegated to the past.
After the initial impact of rejection has set in, Elle responds surprisingly by applying for Harvard Law herself to win back Warner. Aided by her diligent friend Kate, she builds up her entrance score and then manages to get accepted with the help of a dance routine performed for the admissions group.
Elle and her pink accessories don’t look the part of a staid, Ivy League graduate student. With the help of her ‘Greek chorus’ of pals Serena, Margo and Pilar, who visit her metaphysically, and a kindly but lonely beauty salon proprietor named Paulette, Elle perseveres to become an accepted member of powerful Professor Callahan’s elite core of students.
Her biggest supporter, though, is a teaching assistant named Emmett Forrest, a hard-working young man from the tough streets of Boston who has put himself through school and strives to steer his new blonde friend through the shark-infested waters ahead.
Highlights: Legally Blonde began as a novel by Amanda Brown based on her experiences studying law. In 2001 it was made into a hit movie starring Reese Witherspoon and a musical version, with lyrics and music by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, opened on Broadway in 2007. That ran for nearly 600 performances before closing in 2008, receiving seven Tony Award nominations.
A soufflé of a story, Legally Blonde the Musical nonetheless succeeds in spirited fashion in its debut at Stages St. Louis, thanks in very large part to the lively, energetic and highly appealing choreography originally conceived by Jerry Mitchell that is lovingly recreated here courtesy of Rusty Mowery. Along with a number of delightful performances, that captivating dancing ensures a good time for Stages’ loyal patrons, who seem regularly to sell the place out these days.
Other Info: There’s even a delicious confection available called the ‘Legally Blondie,’ which consists of a butterscotch chip cookie bar drizzled with pink white chocolate. It’s whipped up by With Love Catering entrepreneur Michael Brightman at the behest of Stages’ executive producer Jack Lane to enhance the good times on stage.
Delicious performances aren’t limited to the concession stand. Michelle London is a bundle of exuberance and Valley Girl spontaneity as Elle, making her likable rather than cartoonish with a dynamic portrayal that showcases London’s equal talents as a singer, dancer and comic. Her animated presentation helps make this production of Legally Blonde the Musical the best of four that I’ve seen on as many stages.
From the rollicking opening number, Omigod You Guys, to the effervescent title number near the show’s conclusion, director Michael Hamilton keeps everything moving fast enough to get through the script’s shallow areas, including a goofy courtroom scene designed to demonstrate Elle’s legal expertise.
Local star Ben Nordstrom, who now lives and works in New York City, makes a triumphant return to Stages as Elle’s kind and considerate friend Emmett. Nordstrom is London’s match in energy and acting abilities, and his wide-eyed charm radiates throughout the Reim Theatre.
Veteran Stages performer David Schmittou uncharacteristically plays the villainous Professor Callahan in a nicely nuanced interpretation that shows the character’s intimidating personality in convincing fashion. A real crowd-pleaser is Heather Jane Rolff as Elle’s beautician friend Paulette, leading the ensemble in the clever and amusing number, Ireland, a place she longs to visit to see people “dance without moving their arms.”
Brandon Davidson is fine as the thick-witted Warner and Shannon O’Boyle is cool as a cucumber as Elle’s calculating nemesis, Vivienne.
Hamilton’s polished supporting cast includes Nicolette Hart as exercise guru and murder defendant Brooke Wyndham, Scott Guthrie as Paulette’s UPS boyfriend Kyle, Becca Andrews as Elle’s stalwart friend Kate and Julia Johanos, Melinda Cowan and Sarah Rolleston as her Greek chorus of chorines Serena, Margot and Pilar, respectively. Local performers Laura Ernst, Steve Isom, Pamela Reckamp and Katy Tibbets are among the fun-filled ensemble.
Lou Bird’s costumes are highlighted by Elle’s impeccable sense of contemporary fashion as well as the tony suits of Professor Callahan, the tweedy comfort of Emmett and the gaudy attire favored by Paulette. Matthew McCarthy’s lighting complements James Wolk’s scenic design, which features a series of movable, black and white boards in the background. Lisa Campbell Albert and Stuart Elmore provide the lush musical direction and orchestral design, respectively.
While there’s a nice little message about being true to oneself hidden in the silly script, the real star of Legally Blonde the Musical is its high-stepping, upbeat choreography. Omigod, you guys, that’s really fun to see.
Musical: Legally Blonde, the Musical
Company: Stages St. Louis
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: Through August 18
Tickets: $20-$55; contact 821-2407 or stagesstlouis.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Peter Wochniak