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Beck Center's Legally Blonde mostly falls flat

While little girls might dream of playing Annie and trill "Tomorrow" until all adults within earshot wince, it's fair to say that their slightly older counterparts would love to play Elle Woods in Legally Blonde The Musical.

What's not to love about this singin' and dancin' role? Elle starts out as a bubbly, 1980s' valley-girl sorority sister who's dazzled only by the latest fashions. Then she turns into a legal whiz after stalking her boyfriend Warner to Harvard Law School.

Of course, the risk factor in casting Elle is high, since she is omnipresent in the play. And this Beck Center production features an Elle who, while competent in some ways, still has a big piece missing. This takes a lot of the shine off a shallow play that has to glisten constantly to survive.

Unfortunately the authors — music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, book by Heather Hatch — have created a long (2 ½ hours) and heavy script. Based on the sprightly 2001 flick starring Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde The Musical is a slapdash dye job with its roots showing. And it requires that the director and cast spark it to life with performances dripping in pizzazz.

Things start out on the wrong foot in the ebullient opening number, "Omigod You Guys," with most of the lyrics rendered unintelligible by over-amplification and poor balance with the orchestra. Too bad, since there are a couple cute lines here about Elle and her heartthrob Warner ("They're just like that couple from Titanic/Only no one dies").

Anyhow, once Warner (a Mitt Romney-esque Jason Leupold) drops Elle and heads off to Harvard, Elle decides to get serious about her studies and magically qualifies for entrance into Harvard Law by staging a marching band performance in the registrar's office. This should be a moment of effervescent high camp, but it falls flat thanks to some predictable choreography by Martin Céspedes and tired staging by director Scott Spence.

Along the way, Elle encounters the mean law professor Callahan, his cute teaching assistant Emmett, and a tenderhearted beautician Paulette, who talks a momentarily despondent Elle out of dying her golden tresses brown. Eventually, our heroine manages to win an acquittal for a murder defendant, Brooke Wyndham the fitness queen, based on Elle's encyclopedic knowledge of perms.

But even a play with this many wrinkles could be smoothed over by an Elle Woods who lights up the stage. In that role, Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly sings well and dances adequately, and God knows she works hard. But Reilly lacks the energetic, bouncy vivacity — the stage charm — to make the audience (and Emmett) love her. Without the gravitational pull of an endearing Elle, the rest of the characters tend to float off into space.

There are two other blondes in the cast who demonstrate the kind of spirit that should infuse Elle. One is Kimberly Bush, who gives downscale Paulette a sharp and funny turn. And the other is Shannon Eller, who is ripped and buff as Brooke, although beset with vocal issues in her songs.

There are additional bright spots in Blonde, including a warm and well-sung performance by Jamie Koeth as Emmett and Rick McGuigan as Kyle, a UPS deliveryman with buns of steel beneath his brown shorts. But a key role that goes wanting is Professor Callahan, as Rob Albrecht struggles with the propulsive meter of his speech while never relishing the dark nature of his bloodthirsty character.

Instead of being a frothy lark, Legally Blonde at Beck seems an overly long exercise in trying to have fun. And that's never as much fun as it should be.

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