Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 18
Legally Blonde, totally funnyPCPA offers up a vibrant and fun take on the Broadway hit
BY BRENT PARKER
Ohmigod, you guys! Did you hear that PCPA is staging a musical that was on Broadway just, like, five short years ago? How totally awesome is that!?
Legally Blonde is a fish-out-of-water story about Elle Woods, a UCLA sorority girl from Malibu who invades the ivy-covered walls of Harvard Law School in pursuit of love. It started out as a novel by Amanda Brown in 2001. Later that same year, it was adapted into a movie—a comedy vehicle for then-rising star Reese Witherspoon—which hardly screamed “make me into a Broadway spectacular!” However, it fits surprisingly well into the musical comedy mold, with Elle as an updated version of the traditional ingénue. The musical premiered on Broadway in 2007 and was nominated for eight Tony Awards.
The show’s lighthearted tone is reminiscent of other 21st century Broadway hits, like Hairspray and Mamma Mia!
The opening number—“Ohmigod, You Guys!”—plunges us into Elle’s world. Her dorm is represented by a rolling unit that opens up like a life-size version of Barbie’s Malibu Beach House to reveal a pink wonderland within (set design by DeAnne Kennedy). The stage itself is emblazoned with a giant stylized “e” for “Elle.” Her sorority sisters Margot (Ahnastasia Albert), Serena (Natasha Harris), and Pilar (Layli Kayhani) form a Greek chorus (get it?) to comment on the action throughout.
The score, by husband-and-wife team Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, probably isn’t going to go down in Broadway history, but it’s catchy and captures the perky, peppy, bubbly spirit of Elle and the other sorority girls. It also provides a strong beat for director/choreographer Michael Jenkinson’s energetic dance numbers (his choreography continues to be a major asset to PCPA) as well as a couple of quiet, heartfelt moments, like the title song.
Like all ingénues, Elle must face a parade of cynics who tell her she’ll never amount to anything, starting with her own boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Connor Bond). Elle thinks Warner is going to propose, but he dumps her instead. His aspirations demand a “Jackie” by his side, he explains, and Elle’s a “Marilyn.” Elle hatches a plan to follow him to Harvard and prove she’s the “serious” woman he wants.
In this production, Elle’s hot pink high-heeled shoes are filled by Jessica Crouch, who’s got the charm and stage presence to pull it off (especially important since the source material was entirely constructed around Witherspoon’s star quality). Crouch is a strong dancer and belter, and she also has a talent for the “Bend and Snap,” a surefire method (as explained in one musical number) to get a guy’s attention.
Bond does a fine job, but Warner is written as such a jerk you wonder what Elle saw in him in the first place. Luckily for her, the writers have provided her with a conspicuous alternative. Emmett Forrest (Chris Cooke) is the sweet, supportive teaching assistant in one of Elle’s classes. Cooke puts a lot of sincerity into his backstory number, “Chip on My Shoulder.”
Oodles of heart and exuberance from the entire cast make up for the familiar story beats (the book is by Heather Hach, who co-wrote the screenplay for the 2003 remake of Disney’s Freaky Friday) as Elle overcomes blonde stereotyping and self-doubt to find her true path in life. There are a few clever moments when Elle’s seemingly vapid passion for fashion actually saves the day. But here’s a tip to all innocent young heroines: When the mean girl who’s dating your ex-boyfriend invites you to a costume party—it’s never really a costume party! At least get confirmation from someone who’s not the mean girl who’s dating your ex-boyfriend before you don a Playboy bunny costume.
Speaking of costumes—in a show about a fashionista, it’s only right that they’re fab-u-lous (costume design by Emily DeAngelis)! The dark-hued attire of the Harvard students, which ranges from buttoned-down preppie to Emmett’s “shabby style,” really makes Elle and her signature pink outfits pop.
The supporting cast includes several lovable PCPA regulars. Karin Hendricks, who’s played the ingénue herself in the past, is almost unrecognizable here as Warner’s new girlfriend, the severe Vivienne Kensington. (And it’s fun to see her playing against type.) Elizabeth Stuart is charming as ever in the role of Paulette, Elle’s hairdresser/confidant. She delivers one of the more memorable numbers, a romantic fantasy of “Ireland,” “the land of whiskey and love.” Andrew Philpot has a lot of fun with his role as a “magnificent” UPS guy in short shorts who catches Paulette’s eye.
Elle’s purse-dwelling Chihuahua Bruiser (played by Henry in the attended production, but also sometimes played by Ginger) is adorable, but he’s upstaged by fellow canine Rufus (Humphrey), quite possibly the cutest bulldog of all time (and appropriate to Allan Hancock College, mascot-wise).
Elle eventually finds herself in the running for a coveted internship with the imposing Professor Callahan (Michael Tremblay), who’s looking for help with a high-profile murder case. During the trial, we get what’s probably the funniest number in the show—“There! Right There!”—in which the defense team tries to figure out whether a witness on the stand is “gay or European” (and yes, it is relevant to the case).
As the defendant, fitness guru Brooke Wyndham, Sarah Girard also impresses in an elaborate jump-rope dance number.
The show isn’t quite as good as last year’s production of Hairspray—which had a better score and book, based on better source material—but it’s a delightful way to spend a summer evening or afternoon at the theater. Director-choreographer Jenkinson’s enthusiasm shines through the production as brightly and cheerfully as Elle’s.
Freelancer Brent Parker looks great in any color. Contact him through Arts Editor Shelly Cone at email@example.com.
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