Paramount's 'Legally Blonde' musical makes a strong case for fun

 
 
Updated 9/12/2018 11:18 AM
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  • Casey Shuler plays Elle Woods, Gerald Caesar plays Harvard Law School teaching assistant Emmett Forrest and rescue dog Frankie plays Elle's best pal Bruiser in "Legally Blonde," running through Oct. 21 at Aurora's Paramount Theatre.

    Casey Shuler plays Elle Woods, Gerald Caesar plays Harvard Law School teaching assistant Emmett Forrest and rescue dog Frankie plays Elle's best pal Bruiser in "Legally Blonde," running through Oct. 21 at Aurora's Paramount Theatre. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

"Legally Blonde: The Musical" -- ★ ★ ★

It's easy to underestimate a musical like "Legally Blonde," the confection adapted from the 2001 film about Elle Woods, a perky, privileged California girl who follows the boyfriend who dumped her to Harvard Law School in an effort to win him back.

"Legally Blonde," by composer/lyricists Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin and writer Heather Hatch, is pure fluff. Unreservedly and unapologetically so.

But don't let the peppy score, MTV- and aerobic dance-inspired choreography, chirpy sorority gal Greek chorus and cheeky sexual innuendo fool you. The savvily self-aware "Legally Blonde" knows what it is. Trent Stork, director and co-choreographer of Paramount Theatre's irrepressible production, and his ebullient cast know it, too.

Casey Shuler plays Elle Woods, sorority president turned Harvard University law student in Paramount Theatre's revival of "Legally Blonde."
Casey Shuler plays Elle Woods, sorority president turned Harvard University law student in Paramount Theatre's revival of "Legally Blonde." - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

They deliver everything demanded by this frothy tuner -- which Stork locates squarely in the selfie era -- that unfolds as a series of Elle-orchestrated makeovers.

While the show tips its hat to sisterhood and female power, one scene in particular is strikingly resonant in the wake of the #MeToo movement. It occurs late in the second act during an exchange between Elle (Casey Shuler) and Professor Callahan (James Rank) that concludes with the professor's unwanted kiss. Convincingly played by Shuler, the scene conveys the demoralizing effect of sexual harassment: the way it assaults a woman's dignity, diminishes her accomplishments and reduces her to an object. It's a fine moment for Paramount newcomer Shuler, in a performance that is both strong and sweet.

Elle Woods (Casey Shuler), center, anticipates a proposal, which turns out to be a breakup in Paramount Theatre's irrepressible revival of "Legally Blonde."
Elle Woods (Casey Shuler), center, anticipates a proposal, which turns out to be a breakup in Paramount Theatre's irrepressible revival of "Legally Blonde." - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Who would have thought "Legally Blonde" would have such resonance? You'd never guess it by the opening number, which finds the women of UCLA's Delta Nu squealing with excitement at the expected engagement of fashion-conscious, Malibu-born sorority president Elle to big man on campus Warner (Tyler Lain).

Harvard-bound Warner has other plans. The aspiring politico breaks up with Elle, explaining he has to marry a Jackie (Bouvier) not a Marilyn (Monroe). Determined to win him back, Elle follows him to Harvard accompanied by best pooch pal Bruiser (rescue dog Frankie), where she meets Warner's new girlfriend, disdainful blue-blood Vivienne (Jacquelyne Jones).

Elle Woods (Casey Shuler), left, encounters her ex-boyfriend Warner (Tyler Lain) and his new girlfriend, Vivienne (Jacquelyne Jones), at Harvard Law School in "Legally Blonde" at Aurora's Paramount Theatre.
Elle Woods (Casey Shuler), left, encounters her ex-boyfriend Warner (Tyler Lain) and his new girlfriend, Vivienne (Jacquelyne Jones), at Harvard Law School in "Legally Blonde" at Aurora's Paramount Theatre. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

With support from her Greek chorus (Lucy Godinez, Sara Reinecke and Kyrie Courter) and guidance from graduate teaching assistant Emmett (Gerald Caesar, a classic good guy), Elle goes from unprepared law school newbie to standout scholar. She earns a spot on Callahan's team representing fitness guru Brooke Wyndham (the spirited Jenna Coker Jones), who is charged with murdering her much older husband.

Outside the courtroom, Elle befriends salon owner Paulette (the funny Sophie Grimm), tutoring her in "Bend and Snap" moves to help her land the hunky UPS delivery man (James Doherty). Elle also helps her friend reclaim her beloved bulldog Rufus (Romeo) from a no-good ex-boyfriend.

Sorority sisters turned Greek chorus encourage Elle Woods (Casey Shuler), center. as she begins her first year at Harvard Law School in "Legally Blonde" at Paramount Theatre.
Sorority sisters turned Greek chorus encourage Elle Woods (Casey Shuler), center. as she begins her first year at Harvard Law School in "Legally Blonde" at Paramount Theatre. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Predictably, applause greets the canines every time they trot onto Jeffrey D. Kmiec's attractive set, which is dominated by Greek columns and a giant iPhone and bathed in designer Nick Belley's beautiful lighting.

The score isn't particularly memorable and the show could lose a couple of numbers, starting with a pair of superfluous Irish jigs. That said, Callahan's Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired "Blood in the Water" and "Chip on My Shoulder," in which Emmett challenges Elle's privilege, are solid. And "Legally Blonde" has a bona fide showstopper in the rollicking courtroom number "There! Right There!" where defense attorneys, prosecutors and observers try to decide if witness Nikos (Anthony Sullivan Jr.) is "gay or European."

That isn't enough to rank "Legally Blonde" among first-tier musicals. But like Elle Woods herself, it exceeds expectations in charming and surprising ways.

• • •

Location: 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666 or paramountaurora.com

Showtimes: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday; through Oct. 21

Tickets: $36-$69

Running time: About 2 hours, 30 minutes including intermission

Parking: Limited street parking, paid lots nearby

Rating: For teens and older; includes adult language and sexual references

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