Legally Blonde The Musical
Durham Performing Arts Center
Through April 19
"You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." P.T. Barnum's broad-brush aphorism came to mind during the first "scene" of the dumb and dumber touring version of Broadway show Legally Blonde.
Coarse, coy, sentimental and packed with clichés, this production does not even have the merit of being sexy eye candy. No one who has seen the fluffy little fable of a movie with the same title would have been expecting anything refined or elevated from the musical version, but was it unreasonable to expect some decent dancing, fun music and the possibility of hearing the lyrics?
Without Reese Witherspoon's natural charm and comic timing in the lead role of Elle Woods, Legally Blonde's silly tale of a rich shopaholic UCLA undergrad who grows a backbone and a brain in pursuit of love at Harvard Law lurches from one dull musical number to the next.
And where are the sleek, long-legged chorus girls to at least give one the pleasure of slick synchronized dance numbers? Oh, the girls are there—just as one breathed a sigh of relief at seeing the back of all those shrill sorority sisters, they reappear, voices grating, as a "Greek chorus"—but they are clearly not devotees of Terpsichore. Even the one who can dance—Crystal Joy as Pilar—can only do so much with the pitiful proscribed movement that cannot claim the descriptor "choreography."
The songs have no musical merit, and perhaps even worse, the sound is so overdriven and poorly mixed that they are a form of repeating torture. The deeper voices fare better in the din, but it is still a relief when their songs end.
However, there are some good moments, and funny lines, between the songs. The best involve the beauty shop owner Paulette (Natalie Joy Johnson, who was very amusing), also in pursuit of love, who gives Elle the opportunity for her big insight about the function of the law and its relationship to justice—and to power. It is a fleeting serious moment in a story that is meant to convey the importance of serious work for an honest woman, and bring her respect whether she dresses in pink sparkles or navy pinstripes.