BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
Legally Blonde may be the girliest show ever. "We get a lot of ladies and girls dressed up in pink for birthday parties, bachelorette parties,'' said Becky Gulsvig, who stars as Elle Woods, the Malibu sorority sister who goes to Harvard Law in pursuit of the guy who dumped her. She'll show him that a blond can be serious.
The musical, which comes to Clearwater next week, was adapted from the 2001 movie, which appealed to director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell because of its spunky heroine, played by Reese Witherspoon.
"The thing I loved about the movie was that it was about such a larger-than-life character,'' Mitchell said. "When you think of great musicals and female leads, it's always someone who is larger than life: Gypsy, Evita, Hello, Dolly. It's always a woman who has a reason to sing and dance, and I certainly thought the character Elle Woods had that.''
Legally Blonde was developed in the wake of Wicked, the massive hit that drew hordes of girls to the Broadway theater. "We used to say that if Wicked made it okay to be green, we'd make it okay to be blond,'' said Heather Hach, who wrote the musical's book. "That's a huge market, the mother and daughter who go to the theater together. I think Wicked has a broader appeal because of its connection to The Wizard of Oz. Dads don't resist going to it as much as they might Legally Blonde.''
Still, a lot of the men and boys who get dragged to the musical end up having a good time. "I think that guys come because they like the girls,'' Mitchell said. "The Delta Nus are funny; they're cute.''
Given its girlish target audience, the musical had to be written with some finesse. "One of the things I remember harping on was that we had to keep it sort of clean,'' Mitchell said. "We can't say the f-word, we can't do certain things because there are going to be 8-, 9-, 10-year-old girls in the audience.''
But then one of the memorable scenes from the movie involved the beautician Paulette, putting a sexy move on a hunky UPS driver with what Elle calls the "bend and snap.''
"You have to include Bend and Snap in the musical,'' Hach said. "But it's not the best message for girls. How do you do it without being offensive? Bend and Snap got lots of conversation about how we tackled it, let's just put it that way.''
Gulsvig, 26, has been with Legally Blonde from the beginning, as a member of the ensemble and the understudy for Elle, originated by Laura Bell Bundy when the musical premiered on Broadway in 2007. When Bundy was scheduled to leave the cast last summer, an MTV reality show called The Search for Elle Woods was created to find a replacement. Bailey Hanks, a South Carolina ingenue, won the contest and played Elle for a couple of months until the show closed in October.
"It was hard to know that they were going to give the role to someone else through a reality show,'' said Gulsvig, who did not participate in the show. "But my goal was always to play Elle on tour.''
After a performance in January, Gulsvig slipped on the stairs backstage at the Kennedy Center and broke the big toe on her right foot. That put her out of action for six weeks. She went back into the show in Des Moines, Iowa.
"It was like getting back on a bicycle,'' Gulsvig said. "I was nervous because I hadn't done it in so long, but then I just kept telling myself, you know this show inside-out, you know what's going on, you just have to do it.
"It was not nice to be hurt, but the break was nice. I was able to look at the show with fresh eyes and take a new approach to it.''
John Fleming can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or firstname.lastname@example.org.