Drury Lane Theatrical Productions kick off their season with Legally Blonde: The Musical, a stage adaptation of the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon (itself an adaptation of a novel by Amanda Brown), telling the story of Elle Woods, a bubbly, seemingly–vapid blonde who gets into Harvard Law School. Though initially attending in order to get back together with her ex Warner (who dumped her to go there himself), Elle stays on in order to show she’s more capable than everyone else thinks she is — and more than even she herself knows she is.
The script from Heather Hach, with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin, adheres fairly closely to the major beats of the film; but as with other stage adaptations of beloved films like Big Fish, it features a few changes that can leave a sour taste in one’s mouth. Some are positive, like the expanded development of Elle’s friendship with law TA Emmett, or using Elle’s sorority sisters as a Greek Chorus; others, particularly the final resolution of the Warner subplot, feel tonally off–key and come across as undeserved. And then there’s “There! Right There!”, a song that takes the film’s most dated (albeit relatively harmless and quaint) joke and turns it into a cringe–worthy anthem that seems like it’s intended to be tongue–in–cheek satire, but comes across as actively harmful; that the audience laughed heartily and seemed to love it breaks this reviewer’s heart.
Nonetheless, director Michael MacLennan and the rest of Drury Lane’s team have put together a thoroughly entertaining night of theatre, allowing the show’s sweeter elements to overpower those few sour notes.
Michael Belton’s bubblegum–pink stage promises a bright, colourful experience, with two revolving walls (and a small army of ensemble members and stage hands) allowing for a variety of simple yet elaborate set changes, transporting us from the Delta Nu sorority to the hallowed halls of Harvard, from a local beauty salon to a major courtroom, without removing any suspension of disbelief.
Jeanne Montague’s wardrobe is even more colourful, with every member of the ensemble decked out in sharp threads from across the rainbow, with the most visually stunning assortment belonging to the girls of Delta Nu, as well as the inmates of a women’s prison, with each character’s individual personality captured in their style.
The music, that one song aside, is top notch and played with gusto by Anne Barnshaw and her band, and every member of the ensemble is more than ready to give their all to each number. There are occasionally times when a performer will be overpowered by the instruments, or a number’s lead singer will be drowned out by the backup vocalists. These instances are easily forgivable when measured against the in–your–face enthusiasm of “Omigod You Guys”, the encouraging empowerment of “Bend and Snap”, and the surprisingly emotional opening portion of the show’s title track.
Among the members of the energetic and enthusiastic cast, a few highlights stand out: Carina Ziemann as uber–feminist stereotype Enid, stealing every scene and making you wish she had more to do; Katharine Mines–Costa as Brooke, the exercise mogul accused of murder, laying claim to the show’s most memorable dance number; Matthew Butler as Emmett, charming and affable in a Kristoff–from–Disney’s–Frozen kind of way; Ray Chaaya as sexy UPS guy Kyle, hysterically hammy in all the best ways; and Alix Kingston as Elle’s hairstylist confidante Paulette, whose emotionally honest rendering of “Ireland” easily makes her the show’s MVP.
As for Elle herself, Michelle Wagman’s singing voice is strong, her dancing is energetic, her smile is dazzling, her chemistry with all of her castmates, particularly Butler’s Emmett, is palpable — in short, she’s very good. Yet given the nature of the character, it feels like she should be more than just “very good” — that she should be a standout, commanding our attention simply by standing onstage, in the same vein as Ziemann’s Enid or individual ensemble members like Giselle Magie and Carrie Mines. It’s more a comment on the strength of the ensemble as a whole than any weakness on Wagman’s part — again, she’s very good — but when Elle Woods comes across as just another character in her own story, it feels as if something is missing.
Nevertheless, Legally Blonde, despite the flaws in its script, is thoroughly uplifting and entertaining, and definitely worth checking out, whether you saw the movie or not. Especially if you like dogs. Did I mention the show has dogs? V
Directed by: Michael MacLennan
Playing at: Drury Lane Theatre
2269 New Street, Burlington
Showdates: November 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30 @ 8pm; November 10, 17, 24 @ 2pm
Tickets: $30 (general); $25 (student); $15 (child)
Box Office: 905-639-3739 or
online at drurylane.ca/tickets