'Legally Blonde' On Broadway: A Star Is Born, By Kurt Loder

Musical could do for Laura Bell Bundy what flick did for Reese Witherspoon.

NEW YORK — The road from Hollywood to Broadway and back again has already been profitably traveled by "Hairspray" and "The Producers" — shows that started out as movies, got shipped to New York with tunes attached, and then were reeled back in by Hollywood to be turned into movie musicals. The latest production taking this route is the 2001 Reese Witherspoon film, "Legally Blonde," which was reborn as a Broadway show on Sunday night at the Palace Theatre. "Legally Blonde: The Musical" has so much going for it in terms of stars, songs, and pure bubblescent high spirits that it's hard to imagine it won't someday be summoned back to Hollywood to be given a second life on celluloid.

What the show does most undeniably is to turn 26-year-old Laura Bell Bundy, who plays Elle Woods (the Reese Witherspoon role in the movie), into a star. Bundy, a study in sparkle, has the vocal power and the cute-blonde charisma of a younger Kristin Chenoweth. (She once understudied a Broadway part that Chenoweth originated: the good witch Glinda in "Wicked.") And she gets solid (and often very funny) musical backup from Leslie Kritzer, Annaleigh Ashford and DeQuina Moore (playing Elle's three best friends, Serena, Margot and Pilar), and the monomial belter Orfeh (as Paulette, the beauty salon owner). The dancing moves the story along at a crisp clip (first-time director Jerry Mitchell is a veteran choreographer), and there are also standout performances by two dogs, although not of a musical sort.

The songs in "Legally Blonde," by the husband-and-wife team of Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, aren't likely to eclipse fond memories of Rodgers and Hammerstein. But a number of them burrow into your head with remarkable efficiency — in particular, the Malibu-fueled theme, "Omigod You Guys"; the two-part showstopper "Ireland"; and the mordant law-school anthem, "Blood in the Water."

"Legally Blonde: The Musical" doesn't pretend to be much more than it is, but that's okay: What it is, is fun. It's also one of those rare star-is-born experiences that practically justifies the price of admission in itself. It's also pretty certainly going to be a hit.

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