Chicago Theater Review: LEGALLY BLONDE (The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire)

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by Dan Zeff on February 4, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

THE SILLY BLONDE MUSICAL
THAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Local musical productions will have problems hiring skilled and energetic young performers for the next couple of months. The Chicagoland talent pool of youthful men and women is being monopolized by the presentation of a deliciously silly musical comedy at the Marriott Theatre.

Legally Blonde originated as a novel and then became a popular motion picture in 2001 before being converted into a hit Broadway musical in 2007 (which became even more popular in London). The show is undiluted froth, and the laws of probability weigh very lightly on its storyline. But the musical score by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin is an upbeat charmer, with lyrics that tickle with their droll and hip wit.

Legally Blonde AT The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire - Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin – directed by Marc Robin – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffThis crowd pleaser tells the comic saga of Elle Woods, a ditsy California girl who enrolls in the Harvard Law School so she can prove to the feckless beau who ditched her that she isn’t just a blonde airhead. Elle is convinced she can be serious, and, omigod, like, what’s more serious than Harvard Law School, right? How Elle gets accepted into Harvard is as nonsensical as the rest of the plot, but that nonsense delectably drives the musical, so who cares?

After Elle is admitted to Harvard, the rest of the musical traces her rocky path to success, meaning she triumphs at law school and still gets the right young man as a husband. I take the moral of the story to be that a girl can find true love and a great career by overcoming the handicap of being a beautiful, shallow, pampered blonde. It’s not a message to stir the hearts of determined feminists, but the premise provides a superstructure for a sequence of high velocity song and dance numbers that carry the evening to considerable entertainment heights.

Legally Blonde AT The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire - Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin – directed by Marc Robin – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

The show’s story is a comic soufflé, but it still finds time to make jokes at the expense of gays, lesbians, and European men. A number called “Bend and Snap” demonstrates how a young woman can entice the opposite sex by certain body manipulations in close proximity to the male of her choice. It may be sexism at its most blatant, but only a confirmed sourpuss in the audience would take any of this political incorrectness seriously. It’s too funny.

Director-choreographer Marc Robin works his usual stagecraft magic to accommodate herds of high-stepping performers on the Marriott’s limited performing space. The velocity of the evening never diminishes as the players make their entrances from the aisles, changing costumes at warp speed off stage.

Legally Blonde AT The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire - Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin – directed by Marc Robin – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Marriott found an ideal Elle in Chelsea Packard, a beautiful blonde who nails Elle’s pure Valley Girl persona. She sings, she dances, and she acts to bring Elle alive, if not as a credible three dimensional woman, at least as a character we can enjoy without embarrassment. The musical’s audience in New York City and elsewhere included a high percentage of “tweeners” (girls approaching their teenage years) who obviously found Elle an inspiring role model. What 12-year-old girl wouldn’t want to grow up to be beautiful, a Harvard lawyer, and win the perfect mate? There are worse dreams.

Legally Blonde AT The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire - Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin – directed by Marc Robin – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

The show may center on the tribulations and eventual triumphs of Elle Woods, but the production still accommodates a saucy character named Paulette, a beautician at a salon near Harvard called the Hair Affair. Paulette’s song “Ireland,” about her Irish heritage, is a hoot of clever lyrics delivered with irresistible comic passion by an Amazon of a performer named Christine Sherrill.

The cast is female-oriented but still accommodates several solid performances by males. David Larsen is perfect as Elle’s mentor at Harvard and, eventually, her romantic partner. Cole Burden is fine as the young man who dumps Elle to attend law school, thus precipitating the whole delightful evening. Gene Weygandt is a Harvard law professor who terrorizes first year students and shows his nasty inner self by trying to hit on Chelsea, a characterization that must have thrilled the real Harvard male faculty. And Steve Calzaretta is very funny as a hunky FedEx deliveryman who becomes Paulette’s soul mate.

Legally Blonde AT The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire - Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin – directed by Marc Robin – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffThe production is awash in fine female performances, mostly in ensemble numbers, including a fantasy Greek chorus who gives Elle moral support in her darker moments. Stephanie Binetti is excellent as a Harvard law student who starts out as Elle’s bitchy adversary but comes over to her side in a noble display of sisterhood.

The production is a riot of pink (Elle’s chosen color), and still another triumph by Marriott house costume designer Nancy Missimi. Thomas M. Ryan designed the flexible set, Diane Ferry Williams the lighting, Sally Weiss the properties, and Robert E. Gilmartin the sound. A very loud shout out to William Berloni, the dog trainer responsible for the antics of a Chihuahua named Chico and a bulldog named Nellie, who gave the two most endearing animal performances I’ve ever seen on a live stage. And, as always, the Marriott off-stage orchestra led by Patti Garwood is outstanding, swinging the rock-tinged score all night.

photos by Peter Coombs

Legally Blonde
The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire (Chicago Theater)
scheduled to end on April 1
for tickets, visit Marriott

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Danni March 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm

How about Lara Filip, who came back from cancer, to perform once again for Chicago, as the spunky Enid. She is truly the real life inspiration in this show!!

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