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Friday, December 15, 2006

 

Stage Addiction: Legally Blonde in Rehearsal

We were one of a select few yesterday to attend a private rehearsal of Broadway's latest film-to-stage behemoth -- Legally Blonde: The Musical. Based on the Reese Witherspoon comedy of the same name, the show has been reconfigured by the husband-and-wife composing team of Laurence O'Keefe (Bat Boy) and Nell Benjamin (Cam Jensen), book writer Heather Hach (author of the 2003 Freaky Friday film remake), and mostly by director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, a Broadway staple with a list of shows longer than your arm: Charlie Brown, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Gypsy, Never Gonna Dance and Hairspray, to list a few. Legally Blonde will tryout in San Francisco beginning in late January, and open on Broadway in April.

Or they hope it will. But where they are today -- and to be fair, it is always unfair to judge a work in rehearsal -- they have a long way to go.

We were offered four numbers: the opening sequence, "Omigod You Guys"; two romantic numbers for Elle (Laura Bell Bundy) and her paramours, Warner (Richard H. Blake) and "Take It Like A Man" with Emmett (Christian Borle); and what I believe was the Act I closer, "What You Want." The songs are set firmly in the adult-pop landscape of Broadway; each would fit easily into the scores of Hairspray or The Wedding Singer, where they would be competent and unremarkable.

The major problem stems from the desire to make Legally Blonde a parable of female empowerment. The film followed the determination of a shrewd but superficial sorority girl, but the musical follows an earnest young woman whose major problem is that no one realizes she's intelligent and in love. The comedy, at least at the moment, is drowning under a wall of Self-Importance. Let's hope they put the philosophy on the back burner, and worry more about entertaining the audience.

The acting is eager, the choreography a little manic...but we can be generous and say that it's all still fresh (they've only been in rehearsal two weeks). At the moment, the entire experience is forced, trying to hard to please...the strain of being overly enthusiastic shows through, and damages the work. (One number features, I am not kidding, an entire marching band. Overkill, anyone?)

Bundy is still finding her way in the role; I cut her a great deal of slack, having only had two weeks, but the verdict is still out on whether she can carry this show. There are some marvelous supporting players surrounding her: Orfeh (Great American Trailer Park Musical), Michael Rupert (Falsettos), Kate Shindle (Cabaret), and Leslie Kritzer (Hairspray). I should also mention Chico, who plays Elle's adorable dog Bruiser; Chico was as solid as any actor I've ever seen. He came in, hit his mark perfectly, knew his lines cold (or barks, to be specific), and executed blocking right on cue. I've worked with human actors who couldn't do what Chico did.

This piece isn't meant to be critical, or to discourage anyone from seeing the piece when it arrives in your town. But it needs to use its remaining rehearsal time effectively, to focus on what's truly charming in the story and to hone the energy into a fine shape. If they do that, they'll be fine. We'll know in San Francisco...sooner than they imagine.

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