The setup: If it isn't enough for you to know that the roman à clef that inspired the film Legally Blonde was written by ASU grad Amanda Brown (based on her Stanford experiences) or that the film, in case you're unfamiliar with it, is an oddly fluffy odyssey of female empowerment, you should know that it was turned into an unusually functional musical -- as in the songs fall in places that make dramatic sense, it's organically dance-y, and the suspenseful if preposterous plot unfolds rather nicely.
I saw Valley Youth Theatre's production last summer and realized what a tight show it is, and now that I've enjoyed the current mounting by Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, I will probably turn into one of those people who travels all over seeing Legally Blonde dozens of times whenever I have an opportunity.
The execution: In DST's intimate Cullity Hall, every lyric is clear -- a huge plus in any tuner, but especially one like this in which perhaps a bit too much exposition is shared in song. None of the vocalists shows breathtaking talent in this production, but the whole ensemble is strong and capable.
The set changes are speedy and adorable, with performers continuing to act, dance, and sing long after they disappear out the in-the-round aisles. How they do it while sitting on wheeled office chairs and pecking at laptops without hurting themselves or the audience is nothing short of a miracle.
Rhea Courtney and Richard "Mickey" Courtney's costumes are simply stunning, including the white outfits of the "Greek chorus" that duplicate the details of their earlier sorority girl clothes down to every belt, pleat, and knee sock. As in many musicals derived from films, the chorus plays a plethora of characters, and here they also represent spring breakers, Harvard Law tightasses, fashion-selling associates, prison inmates, and a dance line/flag corps/pep squad with all the panache, color, and accessorizing one could wish for.
Lead character Elle Woods has a different outfit (sometimes two or three) in just about every scene, and nearly every one of them is stylish as all hell and perfectly fitted. The pink-sequined majorette uniform of her "admissions essay," complete with tailcoat and platform boots, is especially impressive.
Brittany Howk, who plays Elle, is an adorable young woman who is somehow made to look fat and frumpy by her initial overstyled wig, but her skills as a performer sell the character anyway. Later, when she changes to straight hair, everything clicks.
Audra Nelson, as Paulette the salon owner, sports a different pair of gaudy patterned leggings in each scene. It's genius. Nelson also has the finest solo in the score, "Ireland," which takes a (relatively) subtle motif from the film and runs it into the ground in an epic, masterful fashion. The rest of the songs are somewhat repetitive and catchy (which you may curse later) and employ simple rhymes to charming effect. (I'm a sucker for relentless rhyming.)
The verdict: Focusing on pace and costumes may seem odd, but that's the kind of show this is. Lie back and enjoy it. I bet you will. Legally Blonde continues through Saturday, May 11, at Scottsdale Desert Stages, 4720 North Scottsdale Road. Tickets are $20 and $25; purchase them here or call 480-483-1664.