The Lexington Theatre Company deserves a round of snaps for its roof-raising production of “Legally Blonde — The Musical,” which opened Thursday night to a full house and a standing ovation.
Before the show started, the buzz of opening night was heightened by the news that the company will produce two shows next summer, instead of one.
“The Lex is growing!” artistic director Lyndy Franklin Smith announced in the curtain speech before Laura Bell Bundy, “Legally Blonde” co-director and star of the original Broadway production, spoke briefly to the audience about the show’s importance to her. Bundy said that this version of “Legally Blonde” was the closest to the original Broadway version that she had seen.
Just a few moments later, the stage was flooded with the original choreography as the sisters of Delta Nu prepared for an engagement celebration for Delta Nu president and blonde California homecoming queen Elle Woods (Emma Degerstedt) in the light and whimsical opening number “Omigod You Guys.”
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Sisters Brooke Engen and Tiffany Engen, both of whom worked on original and touring productions of the musical, set the choreography of the show based on Jerry Mitchell’s original work. The ensemble’s energy and execution of the show’s dance elements is visually engaging while driving the plot and its characters forward, usually with an eye toward toe-tapping humor, like the first act salon number “Ireland,” where Elle’s hairdresser friend Paulette (Katharine Leonard) imagines an adventurous romance with a handsome Irish sailor. The second act’s “Bend and Snap,” one of the most iconic scenes in the film version, is a delightfully girly romp, but it was the jump-rope wielding ensemble in “Whipped Into Shape” that earned some audible gasps and spontaneous applause from the audience.
Broadway-caliber singing and dancing, not to mention top-notch technical aspects, like Tanya Harper’s lighting design and J. Branson’s scenic design, is a hallmark of The Lexington Theatre Company’s productions, but it is the principal actors who have the greatest challenge in this production. Among the explosion of pink sparkle that colors Elle’s world and personality, the audience must see her journey as an authentic one in which she becomes her best self, a sentiment crystallized by fellow Delta Nu, murder defendant and fitness guru, Brooke Wyndham (Brianna Latrash).
Degerstedt soundly succeeds in this effort. Her Elle is the California princess with a purpose; at first, that purpose is love, or her illusion of it. But as she learns to challenge herself and her mind (and heart), her purpose becomes justice itself and a deeper kind of love. The bonds with her sorority sisters, played with tongue-in-cheek perky verve by Casey Wenger-Schulman, Essence Williams, and Ali Funkhouser, are deep and real, like the bonds she forms with Paulette and friend-turned-more Emmett Forrest (played with requisite charm by Dan Deluca). Elle might write with a pink, fluffy quill, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the message she is writing.
Kevin Pariseau is a worthy snake-in-the-grass foe as Professor Callahan, combining polish and panache with an undercurrent of potentially pervy smarm. Lexington’s own Reilly Richardson brings the chill of an East Coast winter to her portrayal of academic and romantic rival Vivienne Kensington, a chill that Elle’s sunny attitude eventually melts. And Louis Griffin’s portrayal of Warner Huntington III entertainingly proves it is he and not Elle who is the superficial, empty-headed one.
No review of Legally Blonde would be complete without a shoutout to Elle’s chihuahua Bruiser, played by real life chihuahua Chico (who was Elle/Bundy’s dog in the original Broadway production) as well as Paulette’s beloved Rufus, whose real name is Romeo. A round of aw’s echoed from the audience each time they made an appearance.
“Legally Blonde” is the third production in The Lexington Theatre Company’s history, and like its inaugural show, “42nd Street,” and last year’s “Mary Poppins,” it is a high-octane, high-caliber production that is filling the Opera House to capacity — a sign that Lexington is ripe and ready for more professional theater.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.