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REVIEW: A Lawyer’s Look at Legally Blonde (Artistry)

A courtroom scene in Artistry’s production of Legally Blonde. Photo by Devon Cox.

Having been both blonde and a law student, the title Legally Blonde always catches my attention, whether it is the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie or the 2007 Broadway musical. The stage adaptation currently being presented by Artistry features a book by Heather Hach along with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin; it is another example of a hit film being transformed into a successful musical on Broadway. Director Angela Timberman and a very enthusiastic cast have created a very entertaining production of this musical.

Angela Steele (center) with the cast of Artistry’s production of Legally Blonde. Photo by Devon Cox.

The story involves rich girl Elle Woods, a fashion marketing college graduate. She is dumped by her good looking and rich boyfriend, Warner Huntington III.  Elle becomes infuriated and desperate when Warner tells her he has to break it off with her because he needs a smarter and more accomplished wife, since he is going to Harvard Law School.  Elle decides that she will do whatever it takes to get into Harvard Law (it really is hard to get into) by having her sorority sisters help her study for the law school admission test (LSAT) and producing a great in-person “show” as part of her application (why didn’t I think of that).  She tests high enough on the LSAT (which does have to be a really high score) to qualify and her in-person application gets her into the school.

Once in school, Elle’s fellow students see her as intellectually inferior and make fun of her, including Warner and his new fiancé Vivienne.  Elle finds support from an older and poorer student named Emmett.  Emmett helps her study and raise her grades, one of several liberties taken: in reality, first-year law students are effectively tortured with uncertainty for nine months because no grades are issued until the end of the first year.  Thanks to Emmett’s help, Elle gets a prized internship working with Professor Callahan, who is also a famous criminal defense attorney.  Callahan is defending the famous fitness guru Brooke Wyndham…who just happens to belong to the same national sorority as Elle. Brooke is on trial for murdering her wealthy and much older husband. Elle is required to give defense counsel Callahan a “me too” lesson before she becomes the lead attorney representing Brooke.

A penitentiary scene in Artistry’s production of Legally Blonde. Photo by Devon Cox.

Attorneys in the audience must suspend their knowledge that a trial judge would never allow a first-year law student to represent a client who is on trial for murder (in Minnesota, the student practice rule requires that you complete your first-year classes before you can practice under the supervision of an attorney). This is especially true with a law student who appears ignorant of the rules of evidence (which is usually a second-year law school subject).  But who needs the rules of evidence, though, when you can use the basic rules of hair care to trip up the real killer on the stand, giving Elle a “Perry Mason” moment when the real killer confesses on the stand? (I have yet to see this moment myself in a real criminal court room after 38 years of practice.)

Angela Steele plays a perky Elle, who for the most part keeps up her positive attitude, despite setbacks proving that she has substance to go with her looks.  Benjamin Rubenstein does a great job of playing Elle’s friend, mentor, and (ultimately) her fiancé.  Alec Leonard succeeds in making Warner a lot less of a loser than he was; in the musical, Warner ultimately gives up law for modeling – I do know attorneys who have done both.  Paul R. Coate shines as the arrogant and sexually aggressive professor (which, I am sad to say ,was definitely an ongoing problems when I was a student).  Supporting cast members provide flashy musical numbers, especially the actors making up Elle’s sorority Greek chorus.

Is there time to pursue love and legal studies? Photo by Devon Cox.

One major advantage of the musical over the movie is that it shows the hard work that is required to succeed in law school – similar to the movie The Paper Chase. One drawback is that we don’t get to see all of the stylish costume changes for Elle’s dog Brewster, which I thought was a highlight of the film. The musical numbers are pleasant enough, especially with the musical direction of Anita Ruth and choreography by Heidi Spesard-Noble. The 20 featured songs, however, are just not that distinctive and the distinctive movie theme song “Perfect Day” is absent from the musical. The musical would have benefited from fewer songs and more dialogue.

Like Elle Woods, the musical makes for an upbeat and positive experience, even for those of us who did not get into Harvard Law.  Artistry’s production is a fun and enjoyable presentation of this improbable legal tale.

Legally Blonde plays through August 19 at Artistry in Bloomington, MN.

Bev Wolfe