Friday, February 3, 2012

The "court" rules in favor of "Legally Blonde"

David Larsen as “Emmett” and Chelsea Packard as “Elle Woods” in "LEGALLY BLONDE" at Marriott Theatre.
 Photo by Peter Coombs , courtesy of Marriott Theatre. 
OMG, but how “Legally Blonde” has grown on me.

When I first caught the 2007 Broadway production of the musical (based on the 2001 movie starring Resse Witherspoon and the original novel of the same name by Amanda Brown), I was underwhelmed by its rather traditional comedy musical score, pop culture references and shameless production promotion (Red Bull was featured in both the script and set design).

Red Bull still figures into both script and set in Mariott Theatre in Linolnshire’s regional production of the show, currently playing through April 1, but for some reason the whole affair comes off –to borrow a lyric from the first act closing song—“so much better than before.”

If “Mama Mia!” is the Hostess cupcake of Broadway musicals, “Legally Blonde” is most assuredly it’s big, pink cream-filled Twinkie. It’s a fast-paced, high-energy musical comedy that will have even the most cynical and seasoned theatergoer smiling.

 Cole Burden as “Warner” and Chelsea Packard as “Elle Woods."
Photo courtesy of Mariott Theatre
The plot in a nutshell:  Petite blonde Elle Woods (Chelsea Packard) is dumped in the last semester of her senior year by long term boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Cole Burden). Warner, it seems has designs on both Harvard Law School and a future in politics and wants “less of a Monroe and more of a Jackie.”

With the help of her Delta Nu sorority sisters, Elle manages to pass the LSAT and also get into one of the most competitive law schools in the country, where she proceeds to try and win him back.

Of course, she is the laughing stock of her class and her professor (Gene Weygandt as the gumpy, tough as nails, high-profile attorney and professor) takes delight in ridiculing her.
With the help of Emmett Forest (a likeable David Larsen), a working class advisor trying to better himself, her manicurist Paulette (Christine Sherill) and a Greek chorus made up of a trio of her sorority sisters (Alexandra E. Palkovic, Vanessa Panerosa and Tiffany Topol), she discovers not only a passion for law, but also the inner-strength to be more than just someone’s girlfriend.

Packard initially plays the character a bit more shallow than in previous Elle’s I’ve seen, but it ends up working to the show’s advantage. Her transformation from blonde to barrister in the second act is akin to as a certain cockney flowergirl’s transformation to proper lady in “My Fair Lady.” By the show’s end, you can’t help but root for her.

Christine Sherrill as “Paulette"
Photo courtesy of Mariott Theatre
As the down-trodded, working class manicurist Paulette, Sherrill manages to ground things in reality. The lyrics of her one solo “Ireland” might be written to illicit laughs (and make no mistake, they do), but Sherrill delivers them with such heartfelt intesity that you immediately recognize another weary fellow traveler whose journeys have sometimes afforded more disappointment and regret than joy and achievement.

If there is anything uneven it is to be found in the show’s leading men. Burden is such a heel and Larsen is so perfect, Elle’s eventual choice is a bit of a no-brainer.

“Legally Blonde” might not be Ibsen, but it still is entertaining.

"Legally Blonde" runs through April 1 at the Marriot Theatre in Lincolnshire. Tickets, $40-$48. Call (847) 634-0200;

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