POSTED ON DECEMBER 30, 2009:
It's All Real
Legally Blonde teaches self-esteem and good fashion sense in its musical incarnation
Show Your Stuff. Becky Gulsvig plays Elle in the touring version of Legally Blonde, The Musical and shows it takes more than your looks to get a Harvard law degree and husband.
A few years ago, I made friends with this lawyer who fancied himself the know-it-all of legal dramatic entertainment. He mocked my fascination with Law & Order: SVU and scoffed during commercial breaks, "That would never happen."
The one thing he loved? The movie he owned and watched regularly? Legally Blonde.
One could argue that his interest in the film was based on the fact that the ever-gorgeous Reese Witherspoon dominated nearly every scene, but I think he appreciated the film for its sincerity, humor and intelligence.
Yes, intelligence. Despite being called Legally Blonde, the movie is actually very smart.
And I'd like to think, if my friend were to live in Tulsa, he'd join me next week for the premiere of Legally Blonde, The Musical, presented by Celebrity Attractions at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
Although I love the movie, I've never seen the musical version of Legally Blonde. I think all the stuff I saw on MTV turned me off.
In June of 2008, the station aired a reality series titled Legally Blonde, The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods, which aimed to find a leading lady to star in the musical.
But I should have taken a lesson from the film I enjoy so much--things are not always as they seem.
What I originally thought, based on what I saw on MTV (never judge a book by what you see on MTV), would amount to a silly and unpopular musical is actually pretty smart and wildly popular.
The musical debuted on Broadway in 2007, earning seven Tony Award nominations, 10 Drama Desk Award nominations and an Outer Critics Circle Award. In 2009, the show won three awards from The Broadway League for excellence in Broadway touring.
The musical closely follows the plot and character set-up of the film. Elle Woods, a pretty, blond sorority sister, is graduating from the University of California-Los Angeles. She expects her upper-class boyfriend Warner Huntington III to propose, but instead, he dumps her, citing a need for a woman who's more "serious."
Determined to win Warner back, Elle gets herself accepted to Harvard Law School and surprises her old beau--only to find him engaged to someone else.
Rather than give up and go back to Los Angeles, Elle determines to prove to Warner how smart she is, meanwhile proving it to herself as well.
A whole cast of characters, including Paulette, Elle's stylist; Emmett, her professor's assistant; and friends met along the way, help Elle prove that "believing in yourself never goes out of style."
Becky Gulsvig, the Elle understudy in the original Broadway cast, plays Elle in the touring version, while D.B. Bonds plays Emmett, Jeff McClean plays Warner, Megan Lewis plays Vivienne, Coleen Sexton plays Brooke and Ken Land plays professor Callahan.
Natalie Joy Johnson, who originated the role of Enid, "the big, butch lesbian," plays Paulette, who just happens to be one of my favorite characters.
Johnson made her Broadway debut with Legally Blonde, The Musical and said it was a "dream come true."
"Being a member of the original Broadway cast, I got to see how the show changed, from first day of rehearsal to opening night on Broadway," Johnson said. "It was really an amazing journey."
Johnson said when the show began to tour, she saw an opportunity to continue working. But rather than play the same character she'd been playing, Johnson decided to go after the role of Paulette.
"(The directors) saw me in suits every day, with Birkenstocks, socks and braids," Johnson said. "When I went in for my audition for Paulete, I completely dressed up. I got a wig, skirt, vest, leggings, platform shoes and the whole deal. When I walked into the room, I was already kind of transformed. Either it was going to work, or it was going to be a disaster."
Johnson said half the fun was rising to the challenge of transforming herself into Paulette and making the character her own, after she'd seen someone else do it hundreds of times.
Johnson has been with the show since the beginning, and she still enjoys it, she said.
"We've done 500 performances on tour, and I did at least that many on Broadway, so I've done the show about 1,000 times," Johnson said. "That's a lot of repetition. But at this point, the show is still fun.
"It's not like Les Mis, where you're dying on the barricades every night. It's a pink, bubbly confection. It's so much fun, and it has such a great message--being true to yourself never goes out of style. Who doesn't need to be reminded of that?"
Johnson said the musical is as funny and smart as the film. It's choreographed and directed by Jerry Mitchell, with a book by Heather Hach and music and lyrics by husband-wife team Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, both of whom attended Harvard.
David Rockwell is the scene designer, Gregg Barnes designed the costumes and Kenneth Posner and Paul Miller designed the lighting.
Two of audiences' favorite characters, Bruiser and Rufus, are played by a Chihuahua and English bulldog, respectively, who were rescued from shelters and trained by William Berloni.
While the show is fun, its messages are also clear--be true to yourself and don't judge a book by its cover.
"I think there's something about just being fearless and kind of just going for it and not letting anything get in the way," Johnson said. "(Elle) does that, and she sort of helps my character with that.
"I dare an audience member to walk out of there without a smile on their face."
Legally Blonde The Musical opens Tuesday, Jan. 5 and runs for eight performances in the Tulsa PAC's Chapman Music Hall, 110 E. 2nd St. Tickets are $20-$60. They and other information are available at www.tulsapac.com.
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