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'Legally Blonde' the musical at Gateway

A scene from

A scene from "Legally Blonde," the musical, at Gateway Performing Arts Center, Bellport, through July 9, 2011. Credit: Jeff Bellante

If torts were candy canes and judges were hairdressers, then Reese Witherspoon -- or in this case, Ruby Lewis -- could be the pride of Harvard Law and win every case.

In "Legally Blonde," the 2001 movie and 2007 Broadway musical, we're asked to believe that a fashion-marketing major who thinks you only wear black when there's a dead person in the room not only gets into Harvard Law School just to win back her boyfriend, but also . . .

Oops. That would give too much away. Still, you'll surmise early in this high-energy excess at Gateway Performing Arts Center that Elle Woods, the pretty-in-pink blonde, pretty much gets her way.

In "Serious," a duet in which Elle expects a proposal, she's ditched by Harvard-bound Warner, a handsome dolt played with see-through guile by Joel Ingram. What does she see in that wannabe-rich guy? Elle is certainly formidable -- if only song and dance were law and order.

Despite her air-headed tendencies and annoying Greek chorus, we're on Elle's side thanks to good-hearted entreaties for the underdog -- literally -- that Lewis sells so irresistibly on "So Much Better" and in the title song and its triumphant remix.

At Harvard, she befriends Emmett, a dressed-for-failure study-aholic played with seductive understatement by Brent Michael DiRoma, last seen as Tony in Gateway's inspired "West Side Story." He undergoes a whoa! transformation when Elle takes him shopping as repay for making her study, earning her a spot on smarmy Professor Callahan's (Paul Jackel) murder-case dream team.

Elle's beauty-shop buddy Paulette (Ruth Pferdehirt) provides her with a Perry Mason moment inspired by the lusty "Bend and Snap" exercise with a UPS hunk (Justin Flexen) that dissolves into a Riverdance moment. (It's complicated.) But when it comes to scene-stealing, no one on two legs can top Frankie, Elle's pooch accessory, and Chloe, the adopted bulldog, both trained by Tony winner William Berloni.

Su Jung Weaver's costumes dazzle with pink intensity, while set designer Robert Andrew Kovach supplies comic and somber backdrops bathed in Kim Hanson's flattering-for-blondes light. The aerobic dance numbers snap to the choreography of director Tom Kosis, assisted by Leah Hofmann, to Justin Fischer's never-miss-a-beat musical direction.

It's harmless fun as long as you're not offended by warped feminism.

WHATL.I. premiere of "Legally Blonde," music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, book by Heather Hach

WHEN | WHERE2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, through July 9 at Gateway Performing Arts Center, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport

INFO$51-$57; gatewayplay, 631-286-1133

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