Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Legally Blonde: Reflections on the Tour

Like, prior to seeing the tour of Legally Blonde, my experiences with the show were totally limited to the original movie (which I think I last saw in the theater), seeing “Omigod You Guys” on You Tube from the MTV airing, a portion of “What You Want” that aired on The Today Show, and three songs I allowed myself to listen to off the album (after seeing the tour, I got a copy of the MTV airing).

I was so psyched to see it. There has been, like, so little of anything exciting that has been touring that I hadn’t seen on my last trip to New York, and having heard a few of the songs, I was totally pumped when I got tickets.

And overall, the show was so cool. A few observations:

Observation 1: Dude, Be Careful What You Pare Down
Omigod you guys, the tour totally gets off to a rocky start. As most people know, the tour nixed the Delta Nu house which totally rocked “Omigod You Guys” in the Broadway production. The opening of those doors so totally added energy to create an exciting open number, and because of the MTV airing, like, everyone knows it.

Without that house set, the staging relies on choreography, which—not to be rude—is not the show’s strongest suit. In place of a fun, energetic set piece with clever staging, tour audiences are presented with the sisters signing a card on a table placed on an empty stage (with the sky backdrop), followed by some pretty dopey choreography that looked so completely pulled from a high school stage. Instead of the stairs, which provided some interesting levels on Broadway, Elle’s room door was off to the side of the stage. I can’t help but feel that for the thousands of audience members out there who came to the tour because of the MTV airing, this staging was, like, a major letdown. Letting down your audience is not a strong way to start a show! Wouldn’t it have been, like, so much better to have cut something else?

Interestingly, the staging had some weak moments, though now that I’ve seen the MTV airing, I see that what made those moments weak were the set changes required by the tour and how director Jerry Mitchell handled them. For example, when Elle walks into the party in her bunny costume, I don’t recall the tour having the door set piece, so that Elle walks halfway onto the stage before stopping with the realization that she’s dressed so not cool (or before anyone sees her). Cutting corners when the audience can tell is so not cool.

Similarly, when Callahan kisses Elle, on tour, Vivienne and Warner see it through the door. Because they just show up there in this crammed space, and the following action (Vivienne pushing Warner away but seeing Elle slap Callahan) happens so quickly, it’s just awkward.

Observation 2: Performers are the Best Spectacle of All
Snaps! The performers were totally able to recover fro the weak start. Becky Gulsvig as Elle gives the character a Kristin Chenoweth spin, imbuing her a squeaky voice, and while Laura Bell Bundy injected some pop power, Gulsvig’s voice is more traditional musical theatre. And though she lacks the stage presence/energy to be as dynamic as a Broadway show's star should be, she’s a very good (and cute) Elle. D.B. Bonds as Emmett was so awesome. He has a strong, appealing voice and imbued Emmett with charm. Jeff McLean, another great singer, was totally strong as Warner. Natalie Joy Johnson, who played Enid on Broadway, was total fun as Paulette (and honestly looked like a Paulette should, more than traditional hottie Orfeh), and Ven Daniels was way fun in his multitude of roles, most notably as Kyle.

I was psyched to see Kate Rockwell (one of the finalists on Grease: You’re the One That I Want) as Serena. Ken Land and Gretchen Burghart also deserve a mention because they gave strong performances as Professor Callahan and Enid. The big bummer of the night was that Coleen Sexton (who rocked as Lucy in Jekyll and Hyde on Broadway) was out for the night, and since there was no paper insert, I don’t even know who I saw as Brooke.

Observation 3: That Music
Omigod, the music in Legally Blonde so rocks! I can already tell the OBCR will totally rate up there with Hairspray, Wicked, and The Wedding Singer as one of my most-listened to new scores. It totally balances the fun, pop sound (which is really Broadway masked as pop) with some cool, serious stuff. Duh, it doesn’t get much funner than “Omigod You Guys,” “What You Want,” “Positive,” “Whipped Into Shape,” and those other fun songs, but then there’s those awesome serious songs like “Chip On My Shoulder,” “Take It Like a Man,” and “Legally Blonde.” The title song is so beautifully written—a really moving song so fitting to the characters. Plus, you then get a strong character song like “Blood in the Water,” which, like, so fits Callahan.

And I just have to say, “There! Right There!” was simply one of the funniest things I’ve seen on stage in a long, long time. I was howling with laughter—it was the perfect combination of scene, character, and situation, all with a real world application that made it ten times funnier. Very clever.

Observation 4: The Comparative Experience
I was so surprised, though, because as much as I enjoyed the show, I didn’t leave Legally Blonde pumped like I did after The Wedding Singer on Broadway (though my seats were farther back for Legally Blonde; I think I paid orchestra prices for mezzanine seats), which was such a hilarious, energetic, heart-warming show. Not that both shows didn’t completely deserve to run; I’m just surprised Legally Blonde was a bigger hit.

Best of all, however, was—shut up!—Legally Blonde feels entirely authentic to the stage—there’s nothing about it that feels forced fit to the stage (or even ill-fitted). I left The Wedding Singer and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels feeling like parts of it were a movie on stage, but I didn’t get that with Legally Blonde.

So, while the tour was not, like, a perfect representation of the show, it still totally rocked. I’m so glad I have the MTV airing now so that I can revisit it whenever I want (and to share with others too).

the Broadway Mouth
June 2, 2009

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