It’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s hear it for the girls. The eight-year-old girls. Astoundingly insipid, saccharine as Sweet ‘N Low in the eye — San Francisco’s Legally Blonde The Musical cheats on Tony Award voters for the embrace of America’s lip-glossed tweens. And given the tweens’ $20 billion annual party budget, these sugar babies are going to keep Blonde on Broadway from its April 30 New York debut until high heels are kicking some butts in the Oval Office, or we all buy a gun and shoot ourselves in the face. Whichever comes first.
We’re talking seventeen high-pitched pop songs staple-gunned into your head over two and half hours. The chorus and title of the entire musical’s theme, “Omigod You Guys,” gets so hammered into your ears it reemerges in dreams. A costume designer’s nocturnal emission — the $12 million production includes 270 dominantly pink costumes for forty human actors and four dogs playing Bruiser and Rufus. Yes, the dogs have understudies. Yes, this is happening. The story of this ditzy Malibu blonde has become a dominant cultural template for “girl power.”
Legally Blonde’s heroine, Elle Woods, began life in the ’90s as a character in a rejected novel by law school dropout and SF socialite Amanda Brown. Reese Witherspoon then turned Elle into a household name with a film that cost $18 million to make but netted $300 million worldwide and helped make Witherspoon the second-highest-paid actress in Hollywood. Reese now commands $15 million per film thanks to Elle, because her target demographic is the same screamers and stompers that made the High School Musical soundtrack the best-selling album of ’06.
The rush to cash in has continued with indie darlings the Shins bested by boy band Pretty Ricky, who peddled their washboard abs and promises to “do you after school like some homework” to the top of the charts. Pretty Ricky wasn’t singing those lyrics to you or me, because we do not call the shots anymore. The teenage girls do.
Legally Blonde The Musical, which opened January 23 in San Francisco, offers tweens the world. There’s the competent, rigorous singing and dancing by Wicked veteran Laura Bell Bundy — who has a Sherman tank stamina and a die-cast, rock-hard bod smoldering in her Playboy bunny suit. Then there’s the Delta Nu sorority girls straight from “Hollaback Girl” who become, natch, a Greek chorus when Elle chases Warner Huntington III to Harvard. And let us not forget the ovary-warming effect of real, live, furry, small barking dogs wagging their tails and being all, well, cuuuuute. Boundless emotional heights of drama, my ass. Forty or fifty girls enter puberty every time Bruiser enters stage left.
From a hater’s perspective, Musical purports to mock law school snobbery and meanness, but only two interesting cuts occur. Elle’s father tries to dissuade her from law by suggesting an acting career. “Law school is for boring ugly serious people,” he sings. The second cut comes from another senior male — Professor Callahan, whose first lecture is done in song. “Blood in the Water” posits only two types of people in the world — sharks and chum. Lawyers are sharks, he argues; everybody else is chum.
And chum love a good morality tale. The “takeaway” from Musical tastes like stale bubblegum for anyone tall enough to ride adult roller coasters. It’s a slogan mash-up best paraphrased as follows: This is not just a shallow musical. It has a post-feminist message of hope that girls don’t need to dumb themselves down. That girls should decide who they are before letting anyone else do so. That you can look good and dress girly and still be serious and taken seriously. That you can have a great career while prioritizing relationships above accomplishments. That you can have the brains and the body and be a ditz and win the court case. That you can, in effect, have it all.
That’s where this escapist fiction helps define reality. Only megalomaniacs get to “have it all.” Real people get compromised. Blonde author Amanda Brown dropped out of law school after two years, and never published a best-seller. Reese Witherspoon achieved fame and fortune that precipitated a messy divorce wherein she reportedly has to divide her box office take-away 50-50 with a cheater.
And check the real poster mom for feminist have-it-alls, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the GOP’s new presidential piñata. That blonde Wellesley valedictorian didn’t just make the Yale Law Review, she edited it. She had the family and the career and the powerful man, yet she can’t get a fair shake. She’s overqualified next to G.W. Bush and Reagan and Arnold, but even liberals think she can’t win. Why? Well, cast her in Musical and she best fits the role of the smart, bitchy, dour, lesbian feminist who gets big laughs asking Elle to “bend and snap” some more. That’s hot.
When Hillary loses in ’08, at least part of it will relate to America’s infatuation with the Blonde post-feminism template — the superficial, materialistic, adolescent pink plaid dream of retail-happy female emancipation. Elle’s big college philanthropy “Shop for a Cause” completely echoes the Gap’s absurd (Red) campaign. Musical is a rock candy crystallization of fundamental cultural needs, and it draws audiences of all ages with the exact traits Hillary lacks: Elle’s warmth, humility, vulnerability, and great legs.
So remember, ladies, and women, and candidates out there — remember to perfume that résumé and get those calves into shape on the elliptical trainer. ‘Cuz this Valentine’s Day and almost every day of America’s extended adolescence is, like, totally about the girls — the eight-year-old girls.