Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Million Dollar Quartet
Legally Blonde: the Musical has been seen locally already via a national tour stop, a controversial high school staging (which saw its director lose her job), a youth production, and a community theater mounting. Now, a Cincinnati area college has their turn with the Northern Kentucky University (NKU) Department of Theatre & Dance's current mainstage presentation. Though not perfect, this fun and fast-paced show possesses heart, energy, a bouncy and melodic score, and theatrical flair to spare, and NKU's version is likewise not without flaws, but does show off a lot of talent.
Based on the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon and the preceding novel by Amanda Brown, Legally Blonde tells the tale of spoiled-rich sorority gal Elle Woods who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School to win back his affections. In the meanwhile, she discovers a lot about herself and slowly becomes a worthy lawyer-in-training despite her "dumb blonde" outer demeanor.
The book by Heather Hatch includes the requisite balance of youth-targeted humor (much of which works exceedingly well), emotional pull, romantic entanglements, and modern day conflict. Though some of the depictions of various groups (sorority sisters, homosexuals, lawyers) aren't politically correct at times, the show never takes itself too seriously and includes enough self-mockery and deconstruction of stereotypes to be acceptable. The show moves at a rapid pace and covers a lot of material while still telling the story clearly.
The score by Laurence O'Keefe (Bat Boy) and Nell Benjamin doesn't register as overly distinguished from only a single viewing of the show, but repeated exposure (via multiple visits, an MTV broadcast of the Broadway cast, or hearing the CD) demonstrates tuneful and often witty songs filled with strong pop-influenced melodies and smart wordplay. Song highlights include the exuberant "What You Want," the bouncy "Positive," "Take It Like a Man" (where Elle expresses her appreciation to friend Emmett for his support), and the lovely and plaintive title number, which includes a chill-producing harmony portion.
For the NKU mounting, Director Jamey Strawn provides a brisk, straightforward presentation of the material, but also adds in a few nice touches not present in the original Broadway mounting. Roderick Justice borrows liberally from the original choreography at times, but has his cast admirably performing the active and fun dances throughout. Damon Stevens leads a great sounding six-piece orchestra.
As Elle, sophomore Kathryn Miller proves to be an excellent singer, and has impressive stage presence. While she gives Elle a strong emotional arc and well-suited characterization, Ms. Miller did fumble a number of dialogue lines at the performance reviewed. Noah Berry is very likeable as Emmett and displays pleasant and capable vocals, while Courtni Nicolaci gets lots of laugh and sings solidly as Elle's hairdresser friend Paulette. Providing worthwhile contributions in support are Wes Carman (Warner), Drew Blakeman (Callahan), Jessica Adamson (Vivienne), Harli Cooper (Brooke) and Hannah Gregory (Enid). The entire cast does well with the choreography and vocals; however, a number of the show's jokes don't land due to rush delivery.
The design elements have their pros and cons. The sets by Ronald A Shaw convey the various locales effectively and are well integrated with the cast, but look cheap at times, and some elements are poorly painted. The lighting by Chris N. Carter is solid and has some showbiz razzamatazz. Costumes by Daryl Harris, Brian Horton and Jeff Shearer are young, hip and attractive, but the sound design by Kevin Halvin suffered from some microphone issues at the reviewed performance.
Legally Blonde: The Musical is one of the most popular shows in terms of number of productions over the last year and will likely remain one for a while. Though not perfect or inventive, the piece is entertaining, funny, and solidly crafted. The same can be said for NKU's production.
Legally Blonde continues at NKU in Highland Heights, Kentucky, through March 3, 2013. Tickets may be ordered by calling (859) 572-5464.-- Scott Cain