Arts

STAGE REVIEW

‘Legally Blonde’ better than the movie

The Elle-goes-to-Harvard production of popular movie gets high grades for cleverness

 Kelly Felthous (second from right) as Elle with (from left) Tiffany Engen, Allysa Shorte, and Sara Andreas in the North Shore Music Theatre’s ‘‘Legally Blonde.’’

Paul Lyden

Kelly Felthous (second from right) as Elle with (from left) Tiffany Engen, Allysa Shorte, and Sara Andreas in the North Shore Music Theatre’s ‘‘Legally Blonde.’’

BEVERLY - When a show opens with a song called “Omigod You Guys,’’ it’s hard to take it seriously. But Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s lyrics for “Legally Blonde’’ are so clever, and the North Shore Music Theatre’s production so dazzling, it’s impossible not to be charmed.

The musical version of the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie follows the adventures of Elle Woods, the UCLA Delta Nu sorority sister dumped by her beau because he wants “a Jackie’’ rather than “a Marilyn.’’ Although dismissed as a dumb blonde, our Elle (the phenomenally talented Kelly Felthous) studies hard and earns a spot at Harvard Law School, hoping to win her honey back on the East Coast, which her Malibu dad decries as a land where “all the girls have different noses.’’

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Lines like that pop up throughout the musical, along with lyrics and routines that reference Enya, “Riverdance,’’ the effective use of a Greek chorus, and “The Producers.’’ In fact, while O’Keefe and Benjamin’s structure comes right out of the old-school musical theater playbook, their lyrics and dialogue play all the comic moments to the hilt, giving nearly all the cliches a newly burnished look.

Of course, as the mother of a teenage girl, I’m not going to encourage the strategy of a “Bend and Snap,’’ but what makes the musical better than the movie is the creators’ willingness to push beyond the boundaries of credibility and just have fun. O’Keefe is, remember, the same guy who wrote the music and lyrics to the deliciously wry “Bat Boy: The Musical.’’

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And so, the stereotypes start with the truth and then head hilariously over the top. These include Harvard Law students (who sing about their backgrounds in “The Harvard Variations’’), a professor (the wonderful Paul Jackel) who encourages his students to go for the kill in a song called “Blood in the Water,’’ and Elle’s chorus of Delta Nu sorority sisters, who seem empty-headed but are always there for their friend. (Tiffany Engen, Sara Andreas, and Allysa Shorte lead the group in performances that are as physical as they are vocal.)


To balance the privileged extremes, there’s Emmett Forrest (Barrett Hall), a guy with “A Chip on My Shoulder’’ who teaches Elle how to get motivated for better reasons than reclaiming her shallow college boyfriend. He becomes her new love interest.

A further improvement on the film is the subplot, in which Elle empowers beauty salon owner Paulette (powerhouse vocalist Gaelen Gilliland) to go for what she wants. Paulette, in addition to providing advice from her salon chair, has a thing for Ireland. She gets a show-stopping number that spoofs on every Irish cliche, culminating in the line, “Give my love to the leprechauns.’’ Adding a UPS delivery guy with an Irish heritage (Timothy Hughes) as eye candy in a show that celebrates girls as eye candy is a goofy yet perfect touch.

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Director and choreographer Nick Kenkel keeps the pace just this side of chaotic, and stages the action - which includes appearances by not one but two dogs - all over the NSMT auditorium. This catches the audience up in the ensemble’s high-energy enthusiasm.

After all the blonde jokes, “Legally Blonde’s’’ moral focuses on being yourself and learning to fail. But mostly, in this NSMT production, it’s a joyous romp that will send you out singing.

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.
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