Elle Woods takes stage in 'Legally Blonde the Musical'

You can’t judge a musical by its movie.

At least not when it comes to “Legally Blonde the Musical.”

Super Summer Theatre’s latest presentation opens a 12-performance run Wednesday at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.

(The Sept. 22 show will be a special one, celebrating the 1 millionth audience member at Super Summer Theatre, now in its 38th season.)

Based on Reese Witherspoon’s 2001 comedy “Legally Blonde,” the 2007 Broadway hit also will appeal to those unfamiliar with the movie.

So says Alison Thompson, who plays the title role: California sorority princess-turned-Harvard law student Elle Woods.

Although the musical includes “the perfect mix of things people liked about the film,” the show is “its own separate entity,” says Thompson, a Minnesota native making her Southern Nevada stage debut.

Thompson saw a touring version of the musical and figured “if I have this much fun sitting in the audience and listening to the soundtrack, it would be even more fun” to perform in the show, she says.

“Fun” is an adjective director Phil Shelburne also uses to describe the show, which earned seven Tony nominations during its Broadway run.

But translating that fun to the stage turns out to be serious business, admits Shelburne, a Super Summer veteran who’s directed everything from “Jesus Christ Superstar” to “Beauty and the Beast” at Spring Mountain Ranch.

“The idea of the story is very simple, but the writing is actually quite complex,” Shelburne says, citing the quality of the musical’s score, by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin.

“Musically, it’s really difficult,” according to the director.

Take one of the show’s key numbers, “What You Want,” which traces Elle’s efforts to gain admittance to Harvard Law School — and regain the affections of ex-fiance Warner Huntington III (Steve Huntsman), who wants someone more serious. (Or, as Elle realizes with a shock, “Someone who wears black when nobody’s dead!”)

The number “starts out in the sorority house,” Thompson says, “and throughout the course of the song, you go to all these different places,” sharing Elle’s journey, “and you end up at Harvard with her.”

And while the show boasts “a universal story,” Shelburne says, “about overcoming adversity and good triumphing in the end,” the musical also serves as a showcase for “so many great female performers that don’t (often) get a vehicle to perform in.”

Among them: Kirstin Maki as Vivienne , Elle’s rival for Warner’s affections; Sandra Huntsman as Paulette, Elle’s spunky East Coast beautician; and Diana Osborn as fitness queen (and murder suspect) Brooke Wyndham.

To say nothing of Elle’s sorority sisters Pilar, Serena and Margot (Annie Hinskton , Xandra Schultz, Katie-Marie Jones), who materialize from time to time to give Elle a shot of good old Delta Nu spirit.

Of course, gals need guys, and “Legally Blonde’s” lineup includes Taylor Eliason as understanding teaching assistant Emmett Forrest, Steve McMillan as intimidating Professor Callahan and Evan Litt as Kyle, the hunky UPS delivery guy who catches Paulette’s eye, prompting Elle to demonstrate how to “Bend and Snap” — and catch his eye right back.

Audiences watching “Legally Blonde” may “think it’s just a snappy little show,” Thompson says. But in rehearsal — and performance — “you realize how much work is involved in making it look so easy.”

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.