With tiny exception, 'Legally Blonde, The Musical' outshines movie

My theater snobbery against Broadway musicals adapted from Hollywood movies was dealt a serious blow by “Legally Blonde, The Musical,” produced and directed by Philip Shelburne at Super Summer Theatre. The 2007 Broadway show is not only funnier than the original 2001 film comedy with Reese Witherspoon, but, thanks to the music, it also has more heart — except for one little part.

Elle Woods is seriously blond but not serious enough of a woman to please her Harvard Law School-bound boyfriend, Warner Huntington III. When Elle goes into a “shame spiral” she’s rescued by her sorority sisters who inspire her to follow her man to Harvard.

Arriving with her Chihuahua Bruiser in arm, she’s kicked out of class the first day, but she’s saved from despair and bad hair decisions by her beautician Paulette. Under the tutelage of frumpy teaching assistant Emmett Forrest, Elle triumphs when she lands a legal internship on the trial of the century. Having discovered her true blonde self, Elle also discovers true love and graduates as valedictorian of her Harvard Law School class.

In a role that could have been merely a spoof, Alison Thompson makes Elle’s comical tragedies and triumphs heartfelt (“Find My Way”). Thompson is pleasantly more voluptuous than Witherspoon and her “Bend and Snap” could cause whiplash in the audience. Costume designer Wendy Eberhardt-Petrick shows off Thompson’s curves in a series of hot pink creations that are just this short of scandalous.

Although Thompson’s pitch wavered, especially after some of the demanding dance numbers, her voice’s richness shone through in the lovely “Legally Blonde.” She was ably supported by a comic “Greek chorus” of sorority sisters.

Taylor Eliason as Emmett Forrest transforms himself from a frumpy teaching assistant in Act 1 into a swoon-worthy romantic lead in the showstopping “Take It Like A Man” in Act 2.

The multitalented Steve Huntsman makes an egotistical skunk of an ex-boyfriend as Warner Huntington III (“Serious”). Sandra Huntsman (his offstage wife) is a standout as the beautician Paulette Buonufonte. She sports a believable “Southie” accent and she delivers the show’s strongest vocal performance in her comically touching song of lost love and dog (“Ireland”). Evan Litt delivers as the hunk-a-babe UPS man, Kyle, Paulette’s love interest. Their precisely danced spoof of the unbearable “Riverdance” is side-splittingly funny.

Jessica Jones as humorless lesbian-feminist Enid Hoops steals some of the show’s funniest double takes. The audience good-naturedly booed Steve McMillan’s dastardly Professor Callahan (“Blood in the Water”). Robert Riordan as Nikos and Coree Davis as Carlos are hilariously and politically just wrong in “There! Right There!”

Diana Osborn gives a funny performance as accused murderess and exercise guru Brooke Wyndham. She leads a very talented cast of dancers in performing one of choreographer Mic Thompson’s most demanding dance numbers with jump-ropes in “Whipped Into Shape.” Kirstin Maki, who plays Vivienne Kensington, the brittle brunette rival for Warner’s affections, surprised the audience when she belted out the reprise to “Legally Blonde.”

Andy Walmsley’s passion pink set has whimsically tilted Greek columns that poke fun at both the academy and the law. His amazingly fluid design morphs magically from one scene to the next. He is ably assisted by David M. Schulman’s emotive lighting design. When Warner breaks up with Elle her dashed hopes are telegraphed by full blackout; the backdrop goes redder than Shark Week during “Blood in the Water.”

Super Summer Theatre’s sound crew still seems to be struggling with their mics and Thompson’s voice cut out more than once.

The little part that’s mostly missing is Elle’s Chihuahua Bruiser, played by Kerrigan (trained by Anna Clancy). Bruiser is the adorable heart of the film version but he barely has a walk-on here. Paulette’s dog Rufus actually has more stage time even though he goes uncredited in the program. He steals the show and the audience’s hearts every time he lops on the stage (everybody go, “Awwww!).


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