He can be raw and hyper: His dances for the show’s UCLA Delta Nu Greek chorus are based on the none-too-subtle moves of video sluts, and his Act II opener, “Whipped Into Shape,” is a vaudevillian tribute involving suggestive rope-skipping, if you please, that turns into a stamina test. But his big Act I opening number, “Omigod You Guys,” is a synthesis of every element of an exciting musical. He boldly choreographs the set as well as the performers. The gifted Mr. Mitchell’s achievement is that he successfully anchors an ambitiously nutty show that could have easily spun out of control.
After all, this is a musical that for no strictly sane reason launches into a delirious song-and-dance version of Riverdance—because Paulette (of the hairdressing salon “Hair Affair”) has a thing for romantic Ireland and the sound of bagpipes:
Smell the grass as a rainstorm is endin’
People smile while I stroll past their farms
With a redheaded sailor named Brendan
And we dance without moving our arms.
Mr. Mitchell has also assembled an expert creative team—among them, scenic designer David Rockwell (Hairspray, The Rocky Horror Show), whose candy-colored sets are matched in wit by a golf scene with a pink golf ball. Why a golf scene, incidentally? Why not? The manic spirit of Legally Blonde makes it possible for the show to go wherever its manic spirit moves it.
The original book has been delightfully adapted—and even improved—by Heather Hach, who wrote the screenplay for the remake of Freaky Friday, which grossed a gazillion dollars. The music and lyrics are by the exceptional team of Laurence O’Keefe (who created one of my favorite quirky Off-Broadway musicals, Bat Boy) and his wife, Nell Benjamin. They met at Harvard, where they collaborated on the Hasty Pudding Show. One of the smartest numbers in Legally Blonde is sung by a venal professor of law at Harvard (played by the excellent Tony Award winner, Michael Rupert) who gives this useful advice to his students, the legal sharks of the future:
Look for the blood in the
Read your Thomas Hobbes:
Only spineless snobs
Will quarrel with the morally dubious jobs.
Laura Bell Bundy, who plays Elle, has been criticized by some killjoys for not being Reese Witherspoon or Kristin Chenoweth. Ms. Bundy is just swell (and anyone who can write in their Playbill bio that they’re the “creator and co-designer of Schmancy Purses” is the girl for me). There’s nothing fancy-schmancy about Ms. Bundy. Her impeccable performance is boundless in its energy and good humor, and she leads a terrific cast, including Christian Borle (of Spamalot) as Elle’s newfound love interest, the soon to be restyled Emmet. The performer known as Orfeh—founder and lead singer of the platinum hit group Or-N-More—makes a hilarious Paulette. And the first-rate Kate Shindle—who happens to have been Miss America 1998—is the snooty Harvard yuppie Vivienne.
To be sure, Legally Blonde has a few forgivable flaws. It’s loud and longs to please (and does). It’s not an innovatory musical in the league of Spring Awakening; it’s in the pop-culture tradition of Hairspray and the fairy tale Wicked.
The broad appeal of Legally Blonde is in its girl power and stirring moral: You, too, can be a blond bend-and-snap ditz and triumph at Harvard (and—Omigod!—get the right guy). All this and those dogged, scene-stealing troupers, Bruiser and Rufus.