Legally Blonde The Musical
WESTCHESTER, NY – Actress Reese Witherspoon rocketed to stardom, in 2001, in the box office hit movie ‘Legally Blonde.’ Admittedly, I did not see the film. So, when I recently saw the opening night performance of ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, I came in with no preconceived opinions of the show.
But, I was completely won over by this brisk and bouncy musical, that tells the story that many of us can relate to. An underdog, facing indomitable obstacles, can succeed if he or she puts her mind to it.
As the musical begins, we meet Elle Woods (Kelly Felthous) who is a Southern California co-ed, about to receive her degree in Fashion Merchandising. She is, simultaneously, expecting her long-time boyfriend Warner Huffington III (Robert Patrick Ryan) to pop the question. Warner is preparing to go to Harvard Law School, and has his career ambitions firmly implanted in his mind. He will win a US Senate seat by the time he is 30 years old. But, there’s one obstacle in his way. That is Elle and her little chihuahua named Bruiser (Roxy). He wants a wife who is ‘serious,’ and who can be a campaign asset to him, in much the same way Jacqueline Kennedy was to her husband. Despite her 4.0 GPA in Fashion Design, Elle is nothing but a stereotypical ‘dumb blonde,’ outfitted in a pink mini-dress and high-heels.
Elle is devastated by this rejection. Comforted by her sorority sisters, she is told to follow her dream with the song ‘What You Want.’ And, if that means getting accepted into Harvard Law School, she’ll do it, so she can become Mrs. Warner Huffington III.
While the other co-eds are enjoying their final break before the undergraduate commencement, Elle locks herself in her room and studies for the Harvard Law School Admissions test. She passes the test, but does not impress the Admissions counselors when she hands them her resume which is printed on the reverse side of her 8 x 10 headshot.
Elle, with her little dog sitting in her handbag, walks into her first day of classes. Professor Callahan (Aloysius Gigl) has quite the reputation for being a ‘tough as nails’ educator. During his opening lecture to his class, he warns them that only four of them will be selected to be his interns, because if you really want to be a lawyer, you have to see and taste the ‘Blood in the Water.’
Our heroine fails to give a favorable ‘first impression’ to her professor and fellow classmates. She is laughed out of the classroom. Sulking in her hour of despair, she leaves, after which she is introduced to Warner’s new girlfriend, fellow classmate Vivienne (Lauren Blackman), a tall, sophisticated brunette.
Retreating to the nearby beauty salon, Elle, wiping away her tears, instructs the beautician to dye her hair so she can be a brunette and be taken more seriously.
Paulette (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan), the hairdresser, tries to cheer Elle up, by telling her of her sad love life. Her fondest dream is to settle down with the man of her dreams and move to Ireland. She lived with her boyfriend, who walked out on her after 10 years, and taking her most prized possession, her basset hound Rufus (played by Paul Newman – don’t you love that name for a dog?) Remembering the text of her law books, Elle and Paulette confront the ex-boyfriend at his trailer park. Citing the fact that their 10 years living together constitutes a common law marriage, Elle proudly declares that Paulette is entitled to equitable division of property, and is, therefore, entitled to her much loved Rufus.
Returning to her off campus apartment, Elle is comforted by her fellow classmate, Emmett. He tells her that he had a rough childhood, was raised by a single mother, and he took on a series of odd jobs to reach his goal of a Harvard Law School education. Emmett grabs Elle and sings you must have a ‘Chip on Your Shoulder,’ in order to achieve your dream.
But just when Elle is regaining her confidence in herself, she is invited by a vindictive Vivienne to a party that the students are holding as they await the professor’s intern list to be posted. Vivienne tells Elle that it is a ‘costume party.’ Elle shows up in a pink Playboy bunny outfit, while everyone else is clad in formal evening attire. The intern list is posted, and Emmett proudly shows Elle that she has made the cut. She will be one of the four interns. The first act closes as an appreciative Elle sings ‘So Much Better.’
Act II find the interns defending, Brooke (Maria Logan) a fitness guru, who is accused of murdering her husband. The defendant pleads her innocence but will not tell her legal counsel where she was at the time of the crime. She does, however, finds a sympathetic ear in Elle, and confides to her that she could not have committed the crime because she was having liposuction, and if news of this came out, it would ruin her fitness career. Elle promises Brooke that she will keep her secret.
The prosecution calls as its next witness, Carlos (Alec Varcas) the pool boy. The district attorney shows the witness a speedo thong. He testifies that he wore the thong while cleaning the pool. Asked about his relationship to the defendant, he proclaims that he was her lover. The defense team is in an uproar over this revelation, and fear that their case is now lost. Elle, in taking a second look at the pool boy, believes he is hiding something. Emmett, taking his cue from Elle, stands up and questions the witness, and he catches Carlos off guard when he asks him the name of his boyfriend, whom he quickly identifies. ‘Gay or European’ is one of the most delightful musical numbers in the show.
Elle questions the murder victim’s daughter, who claims that she was in the shower when the crime took place. But, Elle points out that the witness had just had a permanent, and as such, would have to refrain from getting her hair wet for at least 48 hours. The witness breaks down and confesses to the crime. Elle has won the case!
Warner realizes the error of his ways, and now realizes that Elle is serious, after all. He breaks off his engagement to Vivienne and presents an engagement ring to Elle. It was the moment she had been waiting for. She tells him that under ordinary circumstances, at another place and time, her answer would be ‘Yes’ to his proposal, but she turns him down and proposes, instead, to Emmett. The man who believed in her, even in her darkest moments.
There are many more surprises, and I must warn the ladies that there is a certain UPS driver, who will make your hearts go aflutter.
The musical ends at the Harvard Law School commencement ceremony with Elle delivering her Valedictorian remarks.
Kelly Felthous steps in Elle’s shoes and makes the part her own. She deftly sings in 16 of the show’s 18 musical numbers and goes through some 19 costume changes throughout the course of the evening. She gives a powerful performance, and makes us all believe that despite what obstacles we may face, an underdog can fulfill his or her goals.
Kudos must be given to Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin who wrote the music and lyrics and Heather Hach, who wrote the book. Musical director John Daniels makes this bright and bouncy show a memorable night for theatre goers. Choreographer Leisa Mather masterfully guides the ensemble cast during their musical numbers.
Director Jonathan Stahl, no stranger to the WBT, can add another crown jewel to his illustrious roster of shows he has helmed at the theatre. We also would be remiss in not acknowledging the very special stars of the show, Bruiser (Roxy) and Rufus (Paul Newman). Their program biographies state that both dogs were rescued by animal shelters. Bruiser served as the understudy in the musical’s national tour, and ably filled in, when called upon. She is lovingly trained and cared for by her guardian William Berloni. Paul Newman was found in an abandoned garage in Jersey City and was saved by Mid-Atlantic Bassett Hound Rescue. We are told that he has appeared in commercials, tv shows, videos and is featured on the website www.whitebassethound.com. Paul Newman can be seen in the upcoming film, Dear Dog, I Love You, coming out in May.
Tickets may be purchased by calling (914)-592-2222 or by visiting the WBT website www.BroadwayTheatre.com. The show is scheduled to run until April 29.