Legally Blonde - The Musical

Authenticity Overcomes Pampered Privilege

By: - Jan 15, 2024

From its opening number, with UCLA’s Delta Nu sorority sisters singing, shrieking, and shimmying to ‘Omigod You Guys,’ it’s clear that you’re in for an evening of youthful enthusiasm and energy.  Tri-Valley Theatre Company, in its inaugural production under this banner, shows that with “Legally Blonde – The Musical,” it knows how to make a musical and how to have fun.

Based largely on the real-life experiences of Amanda Brown, the movie “Legally Blonde” premiered in 2001 with a modest budget and revenue expectations that were blown away by its success.  Contrary to the normal sequencing, the Broadway musical followed the movie. Nominally a chick flick and then a sisters’ stage show with its veneer of pink wardrobe, style magazines, toy dogs, and shallow characters at the outset, it never loses its sense of humor, while making some strong social commentary along the way.

The central character is Elle, aptly sharing the same moniker as the famed fashion magazine.  Although her interests are decidedly plebeian, she will demonstrate that she can compete with the pompous privileged.  Along the way, she will show herself to be smart, persevering, analytical, loyal, and humane.  Not a bad personality package.  And despite some theater goers’ inclinations to have condescending thoughts about the slick, silly-seeming character, it’s well-nigh impossible not to be on her side.

Gwynnevere Cristobal plays Elle, conveying the character’s outsized personality with charisma and possessing a strong singing voice that perfectly suits the stage musical form.  Cristobal’s bubbly enthusiasm captures the essence of the character and carries the show.

Near college graduation, Elle is crestfallen to find that her boyfriend Warner, who she expected to marry, is disposing her for not fitting the right socio-economic pattern for a permanent alliance.  He’s leaving her behind to go off to Harvard Law School.  But through diligence and unlimited chutzpah, the girl graduate who majored in fashion design wrangles acceptance to Harvard Law as well and surprises Warner by showing up to become his classmate.  Predictably, Elle must overcome obstacles to achieve her goals.  The relationship derails upon her arrival, but Elle will find her grounding and actualization in other ways.

The story is aided by the introduction of distinctive secondary characters, most importantly Elle’s mentor/friend in law school, Emmett.  As he comes from a humble background and must work to overcome disadvantages, he inspires Elle to stick it out despite the hurdles and humiliations she faces.  Tommy Lassiter fills the bill with just the right levels of humility and assertiveness.  Also, beautician, Paulette, gives Elle a friend outside the legal community that she can relate to.  Andrea Rae possesses a beautiful and powerful singing voice but also imbues Paulette with the ethnicity and working-class zest to give her character great comic appeal.  She urges Elle to be true to herself rather than give in to the conformities that others try to force upon her.

The music generally bounces and contributes to the plot and characterizations.  Professor Callahan’s “Blood in the Water” concerns the cutthroat nature of the law and absence of scruples in its practice.  Emmett’s “Chip on My Shoulder” is about marginalized students in law school who lack money and prominent family.  In “Bend and Snap” Elle shows a technique for use to detect perjury in a trial to distinguish whether a witness is gay or straight.  The action moves swiftly, though there is some superfluousness, especially the events surrounding the murder trial of Brooke, an exercise celebrity.

“Legally Blonde” has small scope in that situations are personalized and venues are interiors.  Yet this production is big and boisterous.  The choreographic demands on Cat Delos Santos Reyes are immense, and the vibrancy of the dance and the squealing from some of the cast create an energized environment.  Costume Designer Andrea Gorham-Browne deals not only with a large cast, but a huge number of costume changes.  With the exception of Elle’s wardrobe, most are pretty routine, but the volume, selection process, and logistics are monumental and very well managed.

The overarching creative contribution comes from Stage Designer Thomas Curtin.   Although the fixed set is simple, the endless changes of venue require numerous set dressing treatments which are handled deftly without delays in the action.  In addition to a vast array of moveable props on wheels, the designer makes great use of the stage’s fly to drop scenery in from above.  Final kudos go to Director Misty Megia, who manages and arranges all of the pieces of the demanding production.

Overall, the musical entertains.  Both its frivolous surface and its exploitation of social issues from professorial abuse to relationship dynamics resonate, and the production rewards with its stylishness and verve.  There are areas for improvement such as the voices in the sorority scenes, the orchestra at opening, and some of the dance execution, but these are minor.  Friends and family in the audience were quite apparent at the opening and filled the house.  Hopefully the production will continue to draw.

“Legally Blonde – The Musical” with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and with book by Heather Hach is based on the novel by Amanda Brown, produced by Tri-Valley Theatre Company, and plays at Bankhead Theater, 2400 First Street, Livermore, CA through January 28, 2024.