Arts & Culture

MTW’s ‘Legally Blonde’ a breezy bit of escapism

OMG u guyz, like “Legally Blonde: The Musical” is so totally LOL. :-D

It’s also very, very pink — as in cheerful and chipper with a rosy, romantic outlook, as well as the wardrobe and decor of the main character, Elle Woods, a sun-kissed California sorority fashionista who gets dissed, gets dumped, gets mad and gets even by taking Harvard Law School by storm to prove that brains and beauty are not mutually exclusive.

This breezy new musical, based on the Amanda Brown novel and the Reese Witherspoon movie, caps the 41st season for Music Theatre of Wichita, and it’s a wonderfully silly bit of escapism on a hot summer night. To be sure, there’s an underlying message about empowerment of women in a male-dominated field, but the flash and the fluff linger longer in your mind.

Directed by Wayne Bryan, who is finishing up his 25th year as producing artistic director, the show is big and gaudy with dozens of set pieces designed by J Branson silently zooming, flying and turning into place to create scenes from a sorority house to a beauty salon, from the halls of academe at Harvard to a courtroom — not to mention Elle’s campus apartment tastefully done in every shade of pink you can imagine.

And the costumes by Leon Dobkowski (who created the shimmery fantasies for last summer’s “Disney’s The Little Mermaid”) seem more like bold fashion statements you might actually see on the street rather than just on stage.

The songs by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin are light, bouncy and serviceable — if not particularly memorable — from the satirically sexy “Bend and Snap” to the rallying “Chip on My Shoulder” to the earnest “Gonna Find My Way.” The dialogue by Heather Hach is sharp, tart and often hilarious.

Anne Horak is appropriately perky and deliciously direct as Elle, a Malibu native who never suffered a setback in her golden life until her snooty boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (handsome, pleasantly voiced Ryan Vasquez), dumps her when heading off to Harvard Law and declaring that she’s “not serious” enough to be his perfect mate. Horak, familiar from many past shows (most recently as glamorous barracuda Lina of “Singin’ in the Rain”), is, of course, a gorgeous blonde presence. But Horak also makes Elle a sympathetic figure with feelings more complex than you might expect from such a glossy surface.

Horak’s voice is clear, strong and beautiful, but her songs are written too blandly to create any show-stopping moments.

A little luckier is Colleen Hawks, making her Music Theatre debut as Paulette, a blue-collar beautician whose earthy advice about remaining true to one’s self gives Elle inspiration and direction. Hawks’ comic and poignant “Ireland,” about holding onto a seemingly impossible dream, is a highlight.

Skyler Adams, a Music Theatre alumnus back for his first guest role, is eminently likable as Emmett, a brilliant but tweedy academic who befriends Elle at Harvard and ends up falling for her while finding his own stylish potential in her wake. His romantic duets with Elle are nicely matched.

And Matthew Shepard, best remembered as the obsessive Inspector Javert of “Les Miserables,” struts and strides his way as the arrogant, condescending and chauvinistic Professor Callahan, who delights in sneering at Elle — until he realizes what a quirkily logical, bizarrely effective force she is. Again, his musical moments are serviceable but don’t really showcase what his voice can do.

Choreography by Roger Castellano is athletic and inventive — although opening-night coordination was a little disjoined in one segment using jump ropes. The orchestra under music director Thomas W. Douglas did fine during the show, but the short overture and entr’acte seemed mushy with no distinct musical themes emerging.