PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Legally Blonde — Delta Force

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Legally Blonde — Delta Force
 
Most of the Legally Blonde opening night crowd came to the Palace Theatre and the Cipriani 42nd Street after-party April 29 decked out in some sort of pink — a dress, shirts or tie.
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Pink also happens to figure prominently in Blonde's fellow girl-power musical Hairspray, whose veterans Harvey Fierstein and Dick Latessa came out to support their beloved choreographer Jerry Mitchell, making his Broadway debut as a director.

"He delivered this big time," Hairspray director Jack O'Brien said of Mitchell. "You can feel his joy and his energy wrapped around this show like a big satin — or this case pink — bow."

O'Brien said of Mitchell's directorial style, "He's distinctively kinetic. Nobody moves people or scenery or a story like Jerry does. He keeps the energy going, he focuses wonderfully on character and for a choreographer, that's a brilliant thing, because he doesn't just depend on dance steps — he takes a care of the characters."

"He has the ability to take that vision in his brain and articulate it," said the show's producer, Hal Luftig. "There are certain directors who can't do that. They sort of see it in their head but then they have a very hard time telling and actor or a set designer or a costume designer what it is they want so you have a very disconnected production."

Mitchell, who has worked with iconic director-choreographers such as Jerome Robbins and Michael Bennett, brushed aside the question of whether he was finding his own distinct voice. "I'll let other people decide that," he responded. He did say he chose this musical to make his Broadway directorial debut because "I knew I could tell this story. I suffered a breakup when I was very young that broke my heart, and I knew what Elle was going through, but fortunately it made me a better person it made me grow and it made me understand more about who I was. Elle gets dumped and in the journey of going after that guy she really finds out who she is."

Mitchell said that during the process, the moment when things fell into place was "when they wrote 'So Much Better,' which is the Act One finale, and we were staging it, I knew that the number was going to blow the house of theatre because you're rooting for this girl who with this indomitable spirit says she's gonna succeed...I knew that that was going to be a special moment, it's kind of the same way I felt about the 'Michael Jordan Ball' number in Full Monty, which tore the roof off."

"It clicked actually from the first audition," said the show's star Laura Bell Bundy of her role. "I have a strong connection with the character so that was sort of an immediate thing for me. That was sort of like, 'If I don't get this I should just quit the business.'

"My cast members say there's a very fine line between me and Elle Woods right now," she added.

Like Mitchell, she said, "I think the best thing that every happened to me for this role is having my heart broken."

Bundy would later hit the dance floor and shake it up with even more abandon than she did onstage, this time to "Hey Ya" with Luftig, with a crowd of admirers cheering them on.

The (married) songwriting team of Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin said that their most memorable moment in the process came when the day before their audition songs were due and they were tearing their hair out trying to come up with an opening number.

O'Keefe said, "How do you get to be both musical theatre and modern sorority-girl pop, and Nell said, 'Well what if we call it 'Omigod You Guys?' And she looked at me and I looked at her for about 30 seconds and then badadadadada, we sat down and then tore out the song which has basically remained unchanged since four years ago."

"And now every time I see the t-shirts on them, it staggers me. Like how many lyricists get a chance to see something they wrote like on the chests of girls throughout the New York area?" asked Benjamin. "I suppose Stephen Schwartz does."

O'Keefe said of the audition process, "They asked us to write an opening number, a ballad and also a 'bend and snap' song. For the bend and snap song, we refused because we did not know how to do it yet. And as it turned out, it took us seven tries to get a bend and snap song we liked."

Mo Rocca, now starring in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, showed up to support O'Keefe and Benjamin, both of whom are good friends from Harvard (he was in their wedding). In their senior year, O'Keefe wrote the music and Rocca co-wrote book and lyrics to the Hasty Pudding show Suede Expectations.

"It was a clash of 1970s culture meets Victorian England," Rocca says. "We've been old friends. I was in their apartment when they were like, 'What do you think of this song: Oh my God, Oh my God you guys!' I'm like, 'It's got hit written all over it.'"

Another married couple teaming up for the show is Orfeh (who plays Paulette) and Andy Karl (who plays Paulette's crush, the UPS guy, and other roles).

Karl said that contrary to what one might thinkk, they don't rehearse their scenes at home. "That's the great thing about being married — the chemistry is already there," he said. "We're not trying to show people...how much chemistry there is, we just let it happen."

Orfeh said she was daunted by playing such an memorable role from the film. "As soon as I got it I realized, 'Oops I really better go completely left of Jennifer Coolidge because you can't imitate that kind of greatness," she said. "I had to just kind of break it down and start from scratch." Book writer Heather Hach said that she and the songwriters had dinner at a sorority house at USC. "All these guys kept coming to deliver flowers to the girls. They were so blasé about the whole thing they're like 'Ehh, more flowers,' and I was like, 'Honey, you need to figure this out. These flowers aren't going to happen on a daily basis in the real world.'"

Hach says she also drew from her own experience as a "a fairly unsuccessful" sorority member. "It wasn't quite for me," she said. "I'm a little more eccentric than that and it just seemed a little ridiculous to me. I did transfer from [University of] Arizona to Colorado and in Colorado they were really relaxed and calm and fine. It's not all psychos or anything, I don't want to paint that picture."

David Rockwell, the set designer, said that for research, he and Mitchell did a lot of shopping. "Jerry and I would go look at stores and get a sense of how to communicate that style," he said. He thinks he's satisfied the shoppers in the audience. "One night during a preview a group of Delta Nus came through and they seemed to like it."

The company of <i>Legally Blonde</i> takes its opening night bows.
The company of Legally Blonde takes its opening night bows. Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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