Far more than a lightweight “bubble gum musical”, Legally Blonde delivers an engaging message of equality and empowerment – a powerful punch delivered inside a pink velvet glove. It’s a deliriously delightful show full of toe-tapping tunes and fist-pumping moments from start to finish.
Again, Align Entertainment has delivered a polished, people-pleasing production to the Michael J. Fox Theatre, and collapsed the distance between Burnaby and Broadway to zero. The performances are all superb, the staging and choreography spot-on, and the band outstanding.
The show follows the overall storyline of the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie – with sorority sister Elle Woods applying to study law at Harvard, and defying everyone’s expectations of what a California blonde dressed head-to-toe in pink can achieve.
While it is, on the face of it, a classic romantic storyline, with Elle’s assault on Harvard fuelled by her desire to snare her dream guy Warner, Legally Blonde is really about female empowerment, and Elle’s realization that she has value far beyond whatever man she may happen to be with (or chasing).
The opening number, “Omigod You Guys” sets the bar high. Elle (Julia Ullrich) bursts forth from her crowd of sorority sisters, heads for the mall, takes down a duplicitous salesgirl with her expert fashion knowledge – and throws in a crowd-thrilling quick change… all in one dazzling, high-energy number.
From there on, the pace never flags as we meet Warner, the smarmy, self-centred focus of Elle’s attraction (played to perfection by Stuart Barkley); Callahan (played the multitalented Chris King), the formidable law professor who gives his class a lesson in ruthlessness with the razor-sharp “Blood in the Water”, and Emmett (Victor Hunter, who shone in last year’s Cry-Baby: The Musical, for which he just won an Ovation award), the smart and sensitive student of Callahan’s who is the clear choice over Warner for Elle’s affections.
Despite following many of the tropes of romantic musical comedy, Legally Blonde‘s real pleasures derive from how it defies and upends these stereotypes in entertaining ways, as well as having great fun with them, all in the service of a theme of female empowerment and of being true to yourself.
Interestingly, the show is rooted firmly in its 2001 time frame, from references to Sex and the Cityto an extended riff on Celtic music and Riverdancing. Even the laptops in Callahan’s classroom are authentic to the time frame! But the message is timeless, and the Riverdance / Irish culture sub-theme reemerges later in the show to wonderful effect with an exuberant Irish dance number.
Other standouts include Jenn Suratos as the quirky hairdresser Paulette, who gives Elle valuable advice at the outset, and support when she’s on the ropes. Suratos’ expert comic timing and amazing pipes were again well-utilized in two big numbers that had the crowd exploding with applause.
And Colton Fyfe makes a big, big impression in the small role of Kyle, the “I’m sexy and I know it” UPS guy. Each time he strutted onstage, accompanied by his funky, wah-wah theme music, he had the crowd roaring (and wolf-whistling!).
And no summary of the show would be complete without mentioning the screamingly funny courtroom number that asks (and joyously answers) the musical question, “Is He Gay… or European?” Nicholas Bradbury and Justin Lapena were perfect in the two key roles here, helping make this a real highlight of the show.
Julia Ullrich as Elle brings real warmth and humanity to her role, making us really care about and root for her as she gains confidence and takes charge. And everyone in the show is well-cast and turns in a wonderful performance.
To paraphrase the opening number… if there ever was a perfect couple (of hours in the theatre), this show qualifies. Omigod you guys, do NOT miss this delightfully satisfying show!