May it please the court: There’s something missing in Westchester Broadway Theatre’s “Legally Blonde: The Musical” — the show about a Malibu girl who turns Harvard Law on its ear.
On stage only through month’s end — in a season that has many shows, but shorter runs — “Legally Blonde” has a bona fide ace in Kelly D. Felthous as Elle Woods, a triple threat (in the highest of heels) who has skills that call to mind Kristin Chenoweth and Kelli O’Hara.
It’s a portrayal with surprising dimension, an accomplishment in a show with wafer-thin characters — a snarling law professor, a superficial boyfriend — in a book by Heather Hach.
Likewise, Christopher deProphetis, as Emmett — the level-headed teaching assistant (a role created on Broadway by Christian Borle, of “Smash” fame) — gives a thoughtful performance.
Based on the 2001 Reese Witherspoon film, the story follows Elle as she follows her boyfriend to Harvard Law School. Yes, she’s blonde, the story goes, but she’s smart and determined to study and make it in. And if grades aren’t enough to sway the admissions team, there’s always a cheerleading routine and, as a last resort, love. Once at Harvard, Elle makes her mark — and not just for her signature color: pink. She knows who she is and, in the end, she embraces that.
The WBT production is directed and choreographed by WBT veteran Jonathan Stahl, with musical direction by John Daniels, sets by John Farrell and fine costumes by Matthew Hemesath.
Two canine actors, named Roxie and Paul Newman, perk up the audience with each entrance. Trained by Broadway vet William Berloni, they hit their marks to the delight of the crowd.
It has the blonde; it has the barkers. What it’s missing is the brass.
The six-piece orchestra is bare bones — and sounds it. In a big show about a brassy girl, keyboards, strings and reeds can only get you so far.
That’s not to say that a trumpet would have cured what makes this “Blonde,” in the end, rather bland.
The musical arrangements — particularly in the first act — don’t support the voices. Things improve in the second act, notably in a well-done production number “Gay or European?” that brings the courtroom scene to a full stop, but it’s a case of too little too late.
The music — which was bouncy and buoyant on Broadway with a big orchestra, but lacks luster here — is by Horace Greeley High School graduate Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin.
Elle Woods’ lesson — be yourself — is a good one. The lesson for WBT is that if you’re going to do a big musical, treat it like a big musical. Hire the band. Do it right. Otherwise, choose a smaller musical and make it the best small musical you can. The band in WBT’s last production—the Gershwin tribute ”’Swonderful”—was perfectly suited to the material.
There are musicals big and small in WBT’s show-packed season, from “Hairspray,” which is up next, to “Can Can” and “George M.”
Then, in the fall, it’s “Fiddler on the Roof.” That orchestra should contain, one hopes, at least one fiddler.
‘Legally Blonde,’ Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford. Wednesdays through Sundays through April 29. matinees Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; evening performances Thursdays through Sundays. $52 to $75, including a served meal. 914-592-2222. www.BroadwayTheatre.com
The season: “Hairspray” (May 3); “George M.” (June 7); “The Music Man” (July 5, a Family Theater production); “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Aug. 2); “Can Can” (Aug. 30); “Fiddler on the Roof” (Oct. 11).
Photo by John Vecchiolla: Kelly Felthous (as Elle Woods) and Roxie (as Bruiser) in “Legally Blonde” at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford through April 29, 2012.