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Omigod, you guys, the national tour of Legally Blonde, now playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center, is, like, positively awesome. Heather Hach’s snappy script captures the infectious high spirits of the 2001 novel by Amanda Brown and the 2001 MGM film, which follows the quixotic quest of curvaceous UCLA coed Elle Woods (played on tour by Broadway Elle understudy Becky Gulsvig) to win back her former boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Jeff McLean), who eighty-sixed Elle because he and his family considered her an inappropriate wife and helpmate for a man with a burning ambition to be a U.S. Senator before age 30. Although she has surfer-girl good looks and a 4.0 average in fashion merchandising, Warner thinks Elle is simply too frivolous and too intellectually lightweight to be wife material, especially since she likes to party hearty with her sisters of Delta Nu sorority.
Determined to prove him wrong, Elle follows Warner across country to the ultra-prestigious, somewhat snooty law school at Harvard University, where she enrolls hoping to prove to him that she has Brains as well as Beauty. But by the time that Elle arrives in Cambridge, MA, Warner already has a new girlfriend, Vivienne Kensington (Megan Lewis), who has the family pedigree and political connections that his Malibu Barbie and her fun-loving mom and dad (Cara Massey and Paul Jackel) lack. Vivienne is almost the exact opposite of the fashion-conscious and fun-loving Elle; she’s serious and she wears a lot of black, even when nobody’s dead. But Elle’s biggest hurdle in winning back Warner — and succeeding in the classroom at Harvard Law — is overcoming the Dumb Blonde stereotype.
Becky Gulsvig not only makes Elle as cute as a speckled pup — say, her precocious Chihuahua Bruiser — but also gives this traveling edition of Legally Blonde a spunky underdog who learns how and when to bite. Jeff McLean makes Warner cold and shallow — a heel’s heel — and Megan Lewis’ Vivienne is an Ice Queen who ultimately thaws when Warner uses Elle as his personal piñata one time too many.
Natalie Joy Johnson, who played law school lesbian Enid Hoopes on Broadway, is terrific as hairdresser Paulette Bonafonté, Elle’s new best friend and confidant. Like Elle, Paulette is spectacularly unlucky in love — she even lost her prized bulldog Rufus to a loathsome piece of trash named Dewey (Ven Daniel).
Ken Land is an elegant cad as Callahan, the sleazy high-priced lawyer and law school professor who teaches his Criminal Law 101 students that attorneys are either sharks or chum (“Blood in the Water”); and D.B. Bonds is sweet as Callahan’s rumpled but handsome teaching assistant Emmett Forrest, whose sympathy for the fish-out-of-water Elle blossoms into love. Ven Daniel adds a sparkling comic cameo as a studly UPS guy named Kyle, who gets knocked out — literally — by Paulette’s version of Elle’s trademark “Bend and Snap” male-attention-getting maneuver; and Coleen Sexton is a hottie with an embarrassing secret as Suzanne Somers-style fitness mogul Brooke Wyndham, whose sado-masochistic exercise routine (“Whipped into Shape”) is one of the show’s most memorable production numbers.
Alex Ellis is good as Brooke's hopelessly spoiled stepdaughter Chutney, Gretchen Burghart is amusing as fashion-challenged feminist law student Enid Hoopes; and Kate Rockwell as Margot, Cortney Wolfson as Serena, and Crystal Joy as Pilar — three of Elle’s oh-so-chic Delta Nu sorority sisters — form a rousing Greek chorus of backup singers who follow former UCLA Delta Nu chapter president Elle Woods throughout her mission impossible to reignite Warner’s interest in her. But it is Adam Zelasko and Kyle Brown who steal the show; they are a scream as the insufferably vain pool boy Nikos Argitakos and his tightly wound boyfriend Carlos, whose high-decibel courtroom confrontation provides some of the show’s biggest laughs.
Brisk and positively cinematic musical staging by Broadway director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, associate director Marc Bruni, and associate choreographer Denis Jones helps Legally Blonde recapture the magic of the immensely popular movie on which this toe-tapping musical is based; and conductor Jan Rosenberg and his animated orchestra make the musical gems in Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s score sparkle like the finest diamonds. Producers Hal Luftig, Fox Theatricals, and Dori Berinstein, in association with MGM Onstage, Darcie Denkert, and Dean Stolber, have likewise spared no expense in making the national tour of Legally Blonde look as good as the hit Broadway show; and scenic designer David Rockwell, lighting designers Kenneth Posner and Paul Miller, and especially costume designer Gregg Barnes deserve kudos for the razzle-dazzle that they add to this high-octane musical, which Tuesday’s opening-night audience saluted with a spirited standing ovation.
For ticket prices and remaining show times, see our calendar.