I attended one of the opening weekend performances of Frozen on Broadway this spring… and I believe the excitement in the audience was slightly less ebullient than the one with which I saw Paramount’s Legally Blonde. And understandably so: it’s the perfect back-to-school treat, an innovative, sparkling production packed to the rafters with dynamic talent.
Director Trent Stork and scenic designer Jeffrey Kmiec celebrate both the original film and the 2007 Broadway production while finding fun ways to bring it a decade into the future, most notably via a giant iPhone that displays pictures, texts, videos, and app animations. It’s a bit distracting in the opening number, “Omigod You Guys,” as texts, emojis, and gifs fly, providing a zippy display of the sorority sisters’ joy upon hearing Elle Woods predict her upcoming engagement, but subsequent uses provide perfect highlights to the songs and action. And the four moving pillars are a clever way to present hallowed halls (of Harvard and the Delta Nu house) and flags (Ireland and Pride, respectively). The size and scope shows Kmiec’s ingenuity and skill; it’s almost hard to believe he’s the same scenic designer who brought theatergoers the cozy dual-apartment set of last year’s Porchlight production of Marry Me A Little.
And while not exactly scenery, there are not one, but two adorable dogs, including a bulldog who seemed to improvise a little drool-spattering jowl shake on opening night.
But all of this fabulous framing wouldn’t mean much if you didn’t have an Elle Woods to stand confidently in its midst, and Paramount newcomer Casey Shuler is up to the task. She has the pipes for the music, which is both flawless parody and genuinely catchy pop, and her comic timing is solid. She’s joined by a murderers’ row of top-notch Chicago talent, including her sorority sisters/Greek chorus (Kyrie Courtier, Lucy Godinez, Sara Reinecke), her rival in both the classroom and in the game of love (Jacquelyne Jones), and her instant BFF, salon owner Paulette (Sophie Grimm, costumed like an homage to Annie Potts’ character in Pretty in Pink). Owed a special mention is Leryn Turlington, doing double duty as a serious-minded sorority sister and as star murder trial witness Chutney, who handily walked away with scene after scene. The male leads are also solid, though, much as in the source material, their roles are less fully realized–Gerald Caesar is charmingly earnest as TA Emmett and seems to greatly enjoy the makeover numbers “Take It Like A Man;” Tyler Lain is suitably callow as Warner; James Rank as intimidating, arrogant Professor Callahan; and James Doherty brings a Magic Mike Lite charm to UPS delivery man and entendre slinger Kyle.
If the production has faults, they are largely the faults of the musical or the source material: at 2 hours and 10 minutes, it’s longer than it needs to be, featuring far more of the murder trial plot than necessary; the running gag about Ireland that culminates in an extended Riverdance tribute was likely a little dated when the musical first debuted; and Vivienne’s convenient about-face after nearly a whole running time of two-dimensional villainy is sudden even if you’re committed to having a good time and not thinking too much.
Ultimately it’s the irony-free celebration of sisterhood and friendship amongst ladies who also enjoy making dog birthday cakes and map the changing of the seasons through latte flavors that makes this production so winning, even if you’re like me, someone who remembers the movie fondly but not fanatically. Based on the two school-age girls in line behind me at the intermission of Paramount’s production of Legally Blonde, who repeated the yet-to-occur-in-the-show line that the bend and snap works every time no less than four times… if you’re an enthusiast, you’re in for double the treat.
Legally Blonde runs through October 21: Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Single tickets are $36 to $69. For tickets, visit ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and before evening performances. Legally Blonde is rated PG-13 for for some profanity and sexual references.