Seeing a shrewd singing lawyer in a hot-pink dress win a murder trial based on her knowledge of hair care is just one of the thrills on offer in Legally Blonde, the Musical, which is playing now through August 19 at the Solvang Festival Theater. In PCPA’s excellent production, Jessica Crouch plays Elle Woods, the sorority sister turned attorney. Legally Blonde first reached a large audience as a 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon, but it has now achieved new life as a successful musical. With a clever book by Heather Hach and well directed for PCPA by Michael Jenkinson, Legally Blonde, the Musical puts a contemporary twist on the musical comedy.
For Elle Woods, once so at home in her posh, pink UCLA sorority, the rigors of Harvard Law School come as a shock at first. Although she’s been told all her life she’s just a pretty face, it is nevertheless through her friends and enemies at Harvard that Elle discovers her real potential. Through her relationships with teaching assistant Emmett (Chris Cooke), beautician Paulette (Elizabeth Stuart), ex-boyfriend Warner (Connor Bond), and even with snobby fellow student Vivienne (Karin Hendricks) and underhanded Professor Callahan (Michael Tremblay), Elle learns more outside the Harvard classrooms than she could have inside them.
The musical streamlines the film’s plot by eliminating the character of Professor Stromwell, and she is missed. Even though she kicks Elle out of class, Stromwell was an important female authority figure, and in the film, she’s the one who gives Elle the courage to continue the case after being hit on by Professor Callahan. In the musical, it is mainly Vivienne, who once wanted nothing more than for Elle to leave Harvard, who brings on this turn of events. The sudden shift from bitter rival to moral support all in one scene seemed to happen in a “bend and snap.”
Other deviations from the movie are more satisfying, such as the way that in the musical Warner proposes to Vivienne only after he knows that they have both won internships with Professor Callahan. This change adds to the story; at first, Elle is heartbroken that Warner proposed to Vivienne right in front of her, but once Emmett shows her that she has also gotten an internship, Elle, ecstatic, exclaims in song how this is “So Much Better.” She sees how much more she can be without Warner, who was the original reason she came to Harvard.
Although the musical dispenses with one great character, it breathes new life into the rest of the story’s supporting cast. Paulette and Emmett in particular benefit from the songs, which give them more dimensions. Through the musical, we learn that Paulette is a dreamer, wishing for her Irish prince in her song “Ireland.” (She eventually finds him in the sexy UPS guy.) In “Chip on My Shoulder,” Emmett reveals that he “grew up in the Roxbury slums / With my mom and a series of bums.” And in “Take It Like a Man,” Elle helps Emmett see his potential just as much as he helps her. “Blood in the Water” captures the dark, conniving ambition Callahan attempts to instill in his students, while “Omigod You Guys” expresses all the shrill, excited energy of the Delta Nu girls, who follow Elle through Harvard as a Greek Chorus in her head.
Overall, PCPA’s Legally Blonde, the Musical is an espresso shot of empowerment wrapped in a pink bow. Bursting with prep, pep, and even a riverdance, this show reminds men and women alike that making it to the top doesn’t always mean sacrificing your integrity or your style.