Blonde Jokes 

Playhouse opens its season with Legally Blonde.

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Three quick questions: 1) Why won't sharks attack lawyers? 2) Why did the blond want her pizza cut into six slices? And 3) Is there a difference between a dead dog in the middle of the road and an attorney in the exact same predicament?

Three obvious answers: 1) professional courtesy, 2) because she can't eat 12 pieces, and 3) there are skid marks in front of the dog.

There's never been a scarcity of old, mean-spirited jokes about ruthless lawyers or brainless blond women. It was only a matter of time before some clever person combined these two enduring traditions, and campy self-awareness notwithstanding, that's basically the premise of Legally Blonde (the film, the musical, and the sequel) poured into a trial-sized peroxide bottle. Only once in a while, in Legally Blonde, those well-worn jokes get turned on their perfectly coiffed heads.

Legally Blonde, the musical, may be Playhouse on the Square's first show of the new season, but it's also the last show of the summer and an ideal fit for that time of year when people like their theatrical offerings to be lyrical, light on their feet, and not especially challenging.

For the most part, the musical remains true to its adorable source material: Elle Woods, originally (and almost indelibly) stamped by Reese Witherspoon and played to bubbly perfection at Playhouse by Amy Polumbo, is a rich, seemingly empty-headed sorority girl/fashion merchandising major at UCLA, who's shocked out of her regular party regimen when her old-money boyfriend from back east dumps her for Harvard Law School and a new girlfriend who seems more serious and thus more suitable for the role of a future senator's wife.

As in the film, Elle changes her habits, hits the books, and against all odds, she also ships off to Harvard in pursuit of her lost love and a degree. Although she's treated as unserious by her peers and her slimeball professor, she ultimately excels, showing them all up in the end due to her hard work and vast experience with hair-care products.

Shorey Walker, who has directed Playhouse hits like Footloose and The Who's Tommy, and who also lent her considerable choreographic skills to Playhouse's popular production of Hairspray, has outdone herself with a perfectly paced, high-energy take on Blonde.

It helps that this sugary confection of a show never takes itself very seriously and is propelled by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin's energetic pop and hip-hop-influenced score. I defy even the most curmudgeonly of theatergoers to leave Playhouse without an "Omigod You Guys" earworm.

Walker's cast is exceptional from roots to ends. She gets fantastic performances from regular heavy-hitters like Carla McDonald, who is perfectly cast as the lovelorn beautician Paulette, and David Foster, who is never quite as hard-assed or slick as he might be as Professor Callahan but always on point. Colin Morgan almost manages to be sympathetic as Elle's self-centered ex, and as Emmett, the helpful young law associate there to pick up the pieces, Nick Lerew comes on like a softer version of William Holden's Paul Verrall in Born Yesterday.

Every classic tragedy has to have a Greek chorus, and considering how well it works in Legally Blonde, maybe most musical comedies should have one too. In this case, the Greeks, spunkily played by Noby Edwards, Bussy Gower, and Alexis Grace, are a memory of Elle's sorority sisters, who occasionally turn up to offer the worst advice to a protagonist since Avenue Q's Bad Idea Bears. Cassie Thompson gives her role as a potentially murderous exercise queen a real workout, and even if his UPS-inspired costume won't get many cheers in a FedEx town, Cary Vaughn is hilarious as Paulette's love interest Kyle, a dog-loving dude who really delivers.

It seems like any film that doesn't flop at the box office is destined for lame musical reinvention. Legally Blonde, like Hairspray before it, seems less forced than most, like it was supposed to be a musical all along.

My verdict: Legally Blonde is guilty of being silly, flimsy, unrealistic, trite, and as much fun as I've had at that kind of musical in ages.

Through September 9th

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