Part of the joy of seeing Legally Blonde: The Musical in its original Broadway incarnation was the sheer touristy, Times Square spectacle of it all. Surely this was the crossroads of America as giggly girls and families from Brooklyn to Dubuque filled the tastelessly ornate Palace Theatre and demonstrated their Reese Witherspoon erudition by dressing in the loudest pinks they owned.
The silliness of the story was palpable as former cheerleader Elle Woods pursued her fleeing boyfriend, Warner Kensington III, from the Delta Nu Sorority House on the sunshiny UCLA campus to the somber sanctums of Harvard Law School -- equipped with a pink bunny outfit, a ready charge card, plenty of peppy pluck (and a pet Chihuahua to match), and a surprisingly high IQ. Hundreds of tweens and teens went wild for this drivel, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Who can resist a defense attorney willing to flaunt her bod in order to test the sexuality of a hostile witness? Purest Hollywood.
On the road last week, the spectacle wasn't quite as electric. Even at Ovens, which gives its own special nudge toward crassness, the prevalence of subscribers among the first-nighters robbed the atmosphere of that special tang -- the sanctity of a truly American brand-name pilgrimage -- that I tasted on Broadway.
The show itself was a letdown, too, from the opening scene. We're supposed to be meeting Elle's bimbo chums at her sorority house -- with quick cuts to a mall where she deliberates over the outfit that Warner will propose to her in. On Broadway, this was a two-storey interior accessorized with a firehouse pole that allowed our superheroine to change outfits in the blink of an eye as she slid down from upstairs to ground level. That's entertainment!
But at Ovens, all we got was four or five Corinthian columns evenly spaced against a blue-sky background. All that technical slickness was abandoned for the Legally Blonde roadshow -- along with any dramatic transition between the Left Coast and ivied Cambridge.
So ignorance was bliss for those encountering the Laurence O'Keefe-Nell Benjamin score and the Heather Hach book without its more luxurious Broadway trappings. The falloff in David Rockwell's scenic design wasn't mirrored in the cast. Becky Gulsvig understudied Elle on Broadway and proved to have all the moves, all the notes, and all the curves for the role. Natalie Joy Johnson actually pleased me better than her Broadway counterpart as Paulette, the lovably trashy Cambridge haircutter who becomes Elle's last desperate link with vanity.
There were just a couple of actors who let me down -- but not disastrously. Jeff McLean as Warner needed just a little more dreamboat arrogance, and I wanted more patrician elegance from Megan Lewis as Vivienne Kensington, Warner's snooty yet brainy fiancée. Elle's man of destiny Emmett Forrest was far more satisfying, done with a slight corduroy grunginess by D.B. Bonds. To seem comfy with Elle's wacked feminism, a specially wholesome mentor is required.
The layered subtleties of Professor Callahan, Elle's shark-like law prof, are easily as treacherous as Vivienne's, but here we lucked out. Ken Land embraced the role with a smarminess worthy of Billy Flynn.