Legally Blonde is a jolt to the system, a squealing musical celebration of the can-do American spirit. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour Red Bull high, and if that description seems like a stretch, it’s only in keeping with this brand-heavy blowout. JetBlue, Match.com, UPS…they also get shout-outs. Even the Playbill informs audiences that Elle’s onstage dorm room was ”furnished by Pottery Barn Teen.”
It makes sense that Elle Woods ended up a corporate shill on Broadway, where she’s peddling the same quirky girl-power ethos that turned the 2001 film (starring Reese Witherspoon) into a touchstone for the iPod generation. It goes something like this: ”Use your brain and reach for the stars, girlfriend! But join a sorority and be sure to land a boyfriend, too!” This worldview is both admirable and disheartening, and it extends all the way to the gift stand, where fans can purchase low-rise sweatpants with ”Omigod” printed across the butt cheeks.
Not that this Blonde doesn’t have ambition, charm, or even a healthy message up its designer sleeves. The show simply gets mired in too much frippery along the way. Laura Bell Bundy explodes on stage in the middle of the raucous opening, ”Omigod You Guys,” and her energy never flags. As Elle, the vacant girly-girl who heads for Harvard Law School to impress her ex, Warner (a wily Richard H. Blake), she displays nimble comic timing and strong singing in a role that’s — let’s face it — pretty one-note. She hits every complicated mark in the awe-inspiring ”What You Want,” a marching-band barnstormer that serves as ever-creative Elle’s official ”admissions essay.” And her crackling presence elevates Elle’s first day in class with slimy Professor Callahan (Michael Rupert), who’s looking for ”four young sharks with the dorsal fin.”
Unfortunately, this all takes place long before intermission. Act 2 promises big things with ”Whipped Into Shape,” a wonderfully campy ode to female prisoners and jump rope. (Trust me, it works.) But things begin to fall apart by the time Elle teaches manicurist Paulette (Orfeh) how to bend and snap. Book writer Heather Hach relies too heavily on the built-in fan base’s favorite moments and one-liners for laughs. Rather than taming the film’s over-the-top tendencies, she embraces them whole-heartedly — to the show’s detriment. Paulette’s strange obsession with the Emerald Isle leads to an inevitable Riverdance spoof, the histrionic courtroom ditty ”There! Right There!” flirts with dated gay stereotypes, and the title song proves wholly unmemorable. Like Elle and her dizzy Delta Nu sisters, this Blonde exhausts more than it exhilarates. It’s enough to leave you reaching for a Red Bull.