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“Lethally bland” is perhaps too harsh a description for this derivative but harmlessly giddy musical marshmallow. There’s plenty of color (pink to the max), flash and hyperactive energy in this touring edition of the moderately successful Broadway show.
But with its by-the-numbers book (Heather Hach), lackluster score (Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin) and generic MTV-flavored choreography, this enterprise seems less about musical-theater craftsmanship than about assembly-line processing, courtesy of the MGM On Stage factory. Nonetheless, director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s relentless eagerness to please and several sprightly performances generate exhilarating moments, particularly in the second act.
Based on the 2001 hit film and a novel by Amanda Brown, this is a sorority-sister variation on the current trend toward female-empowerment musicals. The fanciful fable seems determined to prove that besides having more fun, some blondes might pack formidable brainpower.
Perky Malibu-bred babe Elle Woods (Becky Gulsvig) decides to assert her womanly worth at Harvard Law School, though truth be told, she’s out to win back the heart of her shallow ex-boyfriend, Warner (Jeff McLean), who left her for snooty Vivienne (Megan Lewis), someone he perceives as more potentially beneficial to his career. There are bumps for Elle along the way, but there’s never a doubt this will be a happily-ever-after musical.
In a role strongly associated with Reese Witherspoon’s film portrayal, Gulsvig holds her own, singing and dancing with considerable flair and achieving a likable heroine. Natalie Joy Johnson is immensely funny as a sassy Irish beautician with a mean belt and Riverdance in her soul. D.B. Bonds evokes charm and displays impressive singing chops as Elle’s law-school colleague and potential beau. Offering strong support are Lewis as the villainess, Brian Patrick Murphy as a hunky UPS delivery man harboring a gleeful surprise and a spirited Greek chorus of Elle cheerleaders (Cortney Wolfson, Rhiannon Hansen and Crystal Joy).
The opening-night performance was hampered by a problematic sound system, in which song lyrics were frequently lost amid blaring, tinny amplifications. For a show in which many plot points are conveyed in production numbers, that’s not a minor glitch.
Venue: Pantages Theatre, Hollywood (Through Sept. 6)
Cast: Becky Gulsvig, Jeff McLean, Megan Lewis, Natalie Joy Johnson, D.B. Bonds
Director-choreographer: Jerry Mitchell
Lighting designers: Ken Posner, Paul Miller
Set designer: David Rockwell
Costume designer: Gregg Barnes
Book: Heather Hach, based on the MGM film and novel by Amanda Brown
Music-lyrics: Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin
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