Friday, February 5, 2010

Tickled Pink

By Rebecca Jessup

Legally Blonde, the hit Broadway musical now playing at the Buell Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, is an exuberant, hilarious funfest. The story follows the film starring Reese Witherspoon in its broad outline, although not in all details.

A Malibu Barbie/Valley Girl named Elle Woods, supported by her stereotypically cute sorority sisters, is preparing for her imminent engagement to Warner Huntington III in the opening number, “Omigod You Guys!” Elle is devastated when her Ken-doll guy not only fails to propose but actually breaks up with her. It seems he has ambitious plans that don’t include a fashionista mall surfer, and he’s off to Harvard Law School.

Elle, who is nothing if not plucky, comes up with the brilliant solution: She’ll follow him to Harvard! She crams and gets in, in an absurdly improbable scene with the admissions committee. After sashaying into her first class in a giddy haze of pink, she gets her first-ever leash correction: She’s humiliated and kicked out of class by the villain of the piece, a Harvard law professor named Callahan, portrayed in all his oily glory by Ken Land, supported by super-WASP Vivienne (Megan Lewis), Warner’s new girlfriend. Elle comes close to failing, and is turned around by recent graduate and professor’s assistant Emmett (D.B. Bonds) in the song “Chip on My Shoulder” (“But with the chance you've been given / Why are you not driven as hell?”) By the end, Elle has grown from the bouncy “Omigod” teeny-bopper of the opening number to an older, wiser but still effervescent version of herself, and she transforms that OMG into a heartfelt “Oh, my God.”

Paulette the hairdresser, winningly played by Natalie Joy Johnson, is the new advisor and friend Elle meets at a beauty salon in Boston. Ven Daniel plays the UPS man, Kyle, who has a package for Paulette. Colleen Sexton plays Brooke Wyndham, the intimidatingly fit workout-industry diva who hires Callahan and his young assistants to defend her in a high-profile murder case. Elle is backed up regularly by her Delta Nu sorority sisters, who become a “Greek chorus” inside her head when she moves from Malibu to Harvard.

The Buell was packed even on a Tuesday night, with hardly an empty seat. The crowd was rewarded with two hours of airtight performances, wonderful dancing, music and lyrics, and an intelligent script that makes fun of, among other things, blondes who have more fun, New Age music, lawyers, seduction, and American provincialism (“Is he gay or European?”). The strong voices of the cast were backed up by a tiny but well-amplified pit band. The scenery changed often, swiftly, with seamless choreography and stage direction that made it all look easy and inevitable.

Becky Gulsvig, as Elle, pumps the part full of all the passion and emerging compassion, heart, guts and strength that make Elle an appealing character. Her singing is strong and true, although overshadowed slightly at the very end by Vivienne’s. There’s nary a weak line or a false note in the show. Even Elle’s chihuahua mix and Paulette’s bulldog turned in flawless performances—but this show is such a powerhouse that the dogs just can’t steal it.

Rebecca Jessup ( is a freelance writer and Latin teacher.

Legally Blonde the Musical, presented by Denver Center Attractions, runs through Feb. 14. For ticket information visit or call 303-893-4100.
Director/choreographer, Jerry Mitchell; lyrics and music, Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe; book, CU-Boulder grad Heather Hach; music director/conductor, James Sampliner.

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