Broadway At The Beck: Legally Blonde The Musical
When a musical’s opening number is called “OMIGOD YOU GUYS!” it’s a pretty fair assumption that the next few hours will be either excruciatingly giddy or... just giddy. In the case of the Beck Center’s “sugar rush” production of Legally Blonde: The Musical, it’s definitely the latter, and some surprises even get thrown in. This is especially thanks to equity actors, Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly (as the earnest, effortless blonde heroine, Elle Woods) and Jamie Koeth, (as her Harvard teaching assistant Emmett), who share a totally charming connection with one another that makes you want to stand up sing “OMIGOD YOU GUYS!” too (and you probably will, just like opening night crowd who was singing the catchy reprise on the way out.)
If you can stomach the amount of pink on stage (think Malibu Barbie), you’ll dig past the aesthetic and down to the truth of some truly skilled performers that director Scott Spence has gathered— all the way from the principals (especially Kimberly Bush as the hilarious stylist Paulette) down to the (nameless) quirky and flamboyant salon assistant in the ensemble.
Oh. And there are dogs. Very cute dogs. Because what’s a cute story without cute animals, and what’s a sorority girl without her purse-sized Chihuahua?
I can remember seeing the 2001 film, Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, buying it on VHS, and having an internal fire of “YOU GO GIRL!” lit brightly through all of my middle school years. I was a proud 13-year old fan of the idea that I could wear a pink dress, thrive in the male-dominated profession of my choice and just like the fictitious protagonist of the story, get the guy, too. It was the era of “Girl Power” and the Spice Girl style empowerment of third-wave feminism. And some say it still is.
But I also looked closely at the glimpse we get of Vivienne Kensington (played with as much nuance as possible by Katie Zarecki in the Beck’s production). When Elle decides to follow her ex-boyfriend Warner (Jason Leupold) to Harvard Law (getting accepted against all expectations) Vivienne is Elle’s biggest skeptic and much to Elle’s panic, also Warner’s new fiancé. Vivienne hides behind frumpy clothes and a plain brown bob to avoid suspicions that her successes were because of her looks, and to maintain a semblance of dignity in a cut-throat intellectual environment. Both Elle and Vivienne are well aware of the double bind of the Madonna/Whore complex: the same complex that makes “Girl Power” a tricky beast.
Of course, empowerment of the underdog in any situation is timeless, and the Beck takes its ever-present heart and sweat to sing it loud and proud. But all the while, the musical itself doesn’t “update” the story. (Though it does add a hilarious Greek Chorus of sorority girls and a sassy dance number for the iconic “bend and snap”.)
So what now? What do the 13 year-olds of 2012 get out of this 2007 musical based on a 2001 movie that uses the same jokes and the same issues? Does “Girl Power” work today, or did it ever? No doubt, a descendent of “Girl Power” is out there. We can see it standing boldly and clearly in the controversial 2012 “Science, it’s a girl thing!” viral video, published by the European Commission to recruit girls into the careers in the sciences. (The original video was actually removed because of the strong negative response to the sexualization of the female “scientists” in the video.) You can view the video at the Observation Deck: lakewoodobserver.com/forum, where you can also share your opinions after seeing the Beck’s current production of Legally Blonde: The Musical.
Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $28 for adults, $25 for seniors (65 and older), $17 for students (with valid ID), and $10 for children (12 and under). An additional $3 service fee per ticket is applied at the time of purchase. Group discounts are available for parties of 13 or more. Purchase tickets online at beckcenter.org or call Customer Services at 216.521.2540 x10. Beck Center is located at 17801 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, just ten minutes west of downtown Cleveland. Free onsite parking is available.
Lauren Joy Fraley is a theater artist and educator based in Cleveland, OH. She is a graduate of Bowling Green State University where she studied Theatre and Arts Management. After working for the Children's Theatre of Charlotte, NC and touring with CLIMB Theatre based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, she is now working in the Community Engagement and Education Department at PlayhouseSquare, and pursues performing and creative projects primarily at Cleveland Public Theatre.