Elle Woods returns to LA, sunnier than ever

Everyone who has seen the film Legally Blonde knows the inspiring story of young Elle Woods’ triumph over the prejudices she faces as an attractive, blonde female. After being dumped by her boyfriend because she’s “not serious enough,” Elle fights her way into Harvard Law School, where she has to prove that she has the brains to match her beauty.

The 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon, which was based on the novel of the same name by Amanda Brown, became a surprising pop culture hit.

Blond ambition · Becky Gulsvig stars as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical, playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. - Photos courtesy of Broadway LA

Blond ambition · Becky Gulsvig stars as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical, playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. - Photos courtesy of Broadway LA

In 2007, composers Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin teamed up with director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell to bring the tale of the gorgeous, driven law student to the stage. After a brief run in San Francisco, the unexpected musical pushed its way onto Broadway and, like Elle, became an instant success propelled by MTV’s special airing of the show.

Now, Legally Blonde: The Musical can be viewed in all its sparkly pink glory at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles for a limited run. The show has been re-choreographed by Mitchell specifically for the Pantages’ stage.

The film version of Legally Blonde gained a strong following when it was first released because the plot and character resonated with a wide range of audiences. It is the classic tale of the underdog — a success story that inspires those of us who feel patronized from time to time to fight for what we want. In addition, the character of Elle Woods is irrefutably endearing; she is optimistic, driven and not afraid to be herself — the ultimate 21st century role model for young women.

The stage version of the story beautifully encapsulates the charming elements of the film and translates it into an equally light-hearted and entertaining live show. While Legally Blonde: The Musical is hardly the most brilliant or original piece of work to grace the stage in recent years, the show accomplishes its mission to leave viewers with a warm and fuzzy feeling in their hearts.

The show stars Becky Gulsvig in the part of Elle and she does an incredible job of finding a sustainable balance in her character’s awkward yet well-intentioned charm. Gulsvig’s technical approach to her songs is spot-on, albeit a bit safe; one longs to hear more emotional power in her voice, particularly during Elle’s most vulnerable ballads.

Natalie Joy Johnson also shines as the woozy beautician Paulette who befriends Elle and encourages her not to give up on her law school dream.

Many songs are admittedly simplistic, somewhat forgettable and even a bit cringe-worthy — for example, “Take it Like a Man” is rather difficult to sit through. The show, however, does offer several standouts that are catchy enough to stick around and gleefully run on repeat in your head for weeks to come, such as “So Much Better,” a true power anthem for anyone who has ever been dumped or has failed at accomplishing a much-desired goal.

The one major change in the stage show is the addition of a Greek chorus that accompanies Elle on her journey to the school of “boring, ugly people” (Harvard, of course). The Greeks are imaginary apparitions of Elle’s Delta Nu sorority sisters from UCLA, played with alluring sizzle by Cortney Wolfson, Rhiannon Hansen and Crystal Joy. These three girls provide multiple musical interludes throughout the show, and they truly supply the majority of the play’s comedy and charm. Each Delta Nu girl has an individual spark that spices up the show’s plot and adds a bit of edge to the dialogue.

The dance numbers, particularly the grand display Elle presents to the Harvard admissions committee in “What You Want,” are upbeat and energetic, translating Elle’s enthusiasm of spirit through her hip-hop-inspired moves.

Legally Blonde: The Musical knows it is not going to be taken seriously, and embraces its silliness as part of its overwhelming appeal. Its charm is bound to reach the heart of the most critical, hot pink-despising audience member, as one cannot help but leave the theater with a smile.