Oh, my god. Oh, my god, you guys.
So decrees the ensemble in the opening moments of Queen’s Musical Theatre’s latest offering, Legally Blonde. The 2007 musical is, of course, an adaptation of the 2001 Reese Witherspoon vehicle (itself an adaptation of a novel), chronicling the adventure of Elle, a seemingly vacuous sorority president who enrols in law school at Harvard to follow the man of her dreams, only to discover a real respect for hard work and intelligence, and to develop her own passion for helping people find justice.
The show takes cues from the movie but develops its own style, creating a visual spectacle, stuffed full to bursting with lightning-quick costume changes, frantic set transitions, and near-nonstop choreography—to an unfortunate point of quantity over quality at times. Actors or crew enter bearing armloads of props, scurry behind a shield of choreography to arrange everything, and tear it all down seconds later. This grows obvious and tiresome when a character’s exit is slowed by his need to collect everything he came on with, when a character fails to exit through a doorway that didn’t need to exist in the first place, or when all kinds of flies—signs, banners, and doors, operated by ominous floating hands—come down early, late, or not at all. Certainly some of the effects are eye-catching and slick (the act-ending E-L-L-E banners are the closest the show comes to a perfect moment), but their gravity is stripped by abundance (a similar banner effect occurs for a functionary department store scene).
Legally Blonde greatly benefits from the moments where it can slow down and sort itself out, leaving a sparse stage and developing the chemistry between Elle (Mariana Paz-Soldán) and her TA Emmett (Liam Collins, the same shade of adorkable from start to finish, for better or worse) in numbers like Chip on My Shoulder (incidentally the most lyrically trying number in a show that may have been built from a rhyming dictionary) and the eponymous ballad,when Paz-Soldán is able to stop twirling and high-kicking and does her best work, evoking a complex, bittersweet resignation for a few minutes before the number turns into a sweeping parade.
Legally Blonde hurtles through the first half of its first act at breakneck speed, refusing to stop for breath until Elle is sitting in her first day of Criminology 101—at which point the show lurches to an awkward halt, shuffling through a lengthy and static musical introduction to smarmy Professor Callahan (Callum Lurie, wielding an appropriate balance of charm and slime but altogether too emotional for the detached, Machiavellian law idol the script suggests) followed shortly by an even further drawn-out and irrelevant tribute to, of all things, Ireland. Kaila Muzzin’s Paulette certainly deserves props for building an earthy warmth from the dramatic equivalent of wet kindling, but she can’t stop her clunky introduction from damaging the show’s pace. The second act is a much tighter hour than the first, once the alarming and overpoweringly loud jump rope choreography has subsided.
These complex and demanding routines, we are told, are central to the show conceptually. By its own admission, Legally Blonde‘s intense theatricality—every ounce of grinning, glittering fanfare, and panache—is a veneration of femininity, a refusal to engage in toxic reinforcement of patriarchal values. But that message is dishearteningly muddled. Elle may ultimately be able to express her femininity while being taken seriously for her intellect, but she seems to be the only one who can. What about her sorority sisters? They all seem perfectly vapid and content, as long as no one’s being too slutty, or dating someone else’s true love; the only one who helps Elle study for her LSAT is a dowdy geek pastiche who doesn’t get to be classically feminine.
What about queer women? Enid Hoopes (Sarah Currie) is an uninspired costume-coded lesbian in flannel and pantsuits, whose hard work and brains (hey, she got the internship too) are cast aside to make more room for tacky lesbian jokes. Feminine men, according to everyone in the courtroom (enlightened Elle included), must either be gay and/or European—not exactly groundbreaking work. For a show that celebrates femininity and gender expression, its approach is uncomfortably rigid.
Legally Blonde is fun, undoubtedly. It’s bright, silly, and has a good handle on its humour most of the time. Its music is a lot better than its lyrics, it tosses in gags and allusions by the fistful, and its substantial runtime is pleasantly ameliorated by its crisp, buoyant energy. Diehard fans of the movie are sure to be satisfied. But a work of contemporary feminism it isn’t, and under its sugar coating there’s little to chew on. I wonder what Elle Woods might think about that.
Jesse Gazic, Online Contributor
Photography: Jonah Eisen for Yearbook Design Services