Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Legally Blonde
Arizona Broadway Theatre

Also see Gil's review of Tarzan

Jesse Michels and Leanne Smith
The 2001 film comedy Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, was a sleeper hit at the box office. The story follows the very blonde and very likable Elle Woods who follows her boyfriend to Harvard Law School after he jilts her, in an attempt to win him back. In 2007 the film was turned into a big Broadway musical with an infectious score by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production is a non-stop joy with a great cast led by Leanne Smith as the spunky Elle.

The screenplay was written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith and was based on the novel by Amanda Brown. Heather Hach's book for the musical follows the film plot almost exactly, which is a good thing, as it establishes well-rounded characters who learn and grow throughout the story. While Elle may not be "serious" enough for her boyfriend Warner to consider her marriage material, she gets support from her sorority sisters, her Harvard teaching assistant Emmett, and the slightly wacky beautician Paulette whom she befriends in Boston. With their help, Elle works through her setbacks and relishes her triumphs, and along the way realizes she's a lot smarter than she thought she was. She also ends up helping all of those close to her with their own personal issues. Hach's hilarious book and O'Keefe and Benjamin's witty, varied music and lyrics create a fun, upbeat story of empowerment and being true to yourself.

The part of Elle is a hard one to pull off. The actress can't be too serious or too comical, but must have the right balance of both without veering too far into caricature. Leanne Smith effectively brings Elle to vibrant life and allows us to see and understand her foibles while adding some comedy to her more tragic moments and plenty of heart to her triumphs. Smith also has a rich, soaring voice that makes the most of the sharp lyrics in the score. It is a multi-faceted take on the part that succeeds very well.

As Emmett, Jesse Michels might be a little too handsome to play the romantic underdog, but he still manages a nice transformation from the frumpy TA to the man who lets Elle see who she truly can be. Michels also has a clear, strong voice. Abigail Raye is a hoot as Paulette. With a decent Boston accent and a kooky way of delivering a line she wrings the humor out of her scenes but also brings plenty of charm to her songs, with her powerful pipes sending her solo "Ireland" soaring to the rafters.

In the supporting cast, Glen North makes Warner an egotistical snob who also learns a few lessons, and North adds some dimension to Warner to make him likable, even if at first we don't care for him. As the slimy law professor Callahan, Jesse Berger has plenty of snark and smarm beneath his well-tailored suit and his deep vocals really bring a smoothness to Callahan's songs. Lynzee Jaye Paul 4man brings plenty of spark to the workout video star and accused murderess Brooke Wyndham, and Trisha Ditsworth gets some laughs with her well-timed line delivery as the lesbian-feminist Enid Hoops. Sarah Ambrose as Warner's new girlfriend Vivienne has the right amount of coldness in her initial dealings with Elle, yet lets us warm to her just as she sees that Elle is smarter than she originally thought. Ambrose also gets to wail during the curtain call. Adam Shaff brings plenty of heat as the hunky UPS delivery man who warms Paulette's heart, and Kara Krichman, Carly Grossman, and Gabriella Whiting add plenty of spark and sass as Elle's "Greek chorus" of sorority sisters.

Director/choreographer Carl Rajotte has not only found a great cast composed of a mix of both local and regional performers who all work well together to bring out the humor and heart of the story, but his swift direction keeps the show moving at such a fast clip that the musical's somewhat overstuffed plot never gets in the way. Rajotte's choreography is superb, with always changing dance steps that feature plenty of comical moments, including a funny "Riverdance" spoof and an act two opening number that includes a very demanding and intricate use of jump ropes. While, unlike most ABT shows, the sets, costumes and props for this production are rentals, they are great designs and work well with Tim Monson's vibrant lighting design. Also of note: the two dogs in the show, Elle's chihuahua and Paulette's bulldog, are both rescues from local shelters and are available for adoption after the run of the show ,and ABT has partnered with the Arizona Chihuahua Rescue to raise awareness about other dogs available for adoption.

With fluid direction, a really solid cast and bright, and colorful creative elements, ABT's Legally Blonde is a fun, infectious production full of heart and humor.

Legally Blonde runs through August 9th, 2015, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling 623 776-8400.

Stage Direction & Choreography by Carl Rajotte
Music Direction: Adam Berger
Scenic & Props Provided by The Music and Theatre Company
Costumes Provided by FCLO Music Theatre
Lighting Design: Tim Monson
Sound Design: Eric Johnson
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake
Stage Management: Courtney Kenyon

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Margot: Kara Krichman
Serena: Carly Grossman
Pilar: Gabriella Whiting
Elle Woods: Leanne Smith
Warner Huntington III: Glen North
Kate: Megan Moylan
Grandmaster Chad: Adam Shaff
Emmett Forrest: Jesse Michels
Aaron Shultz: Gavin Austin Brown
Sundeep Padamadan: Leonardo Altafini
Enid Hoops: Trisha Ditsworth
Vivienne Kensington: Sarah Ambrose
Professor Callahan: Jesse Berger
Paulette: Abigail Raye
Dewey: Joel Duke
Brooke Wyndham: Lynzee Jaye Paul 4man
Kyle: Adam Shaff
Nikos: Leonardo Altafini
Carlos: Joey Anchondo
Judge: Laurie Trygg
Chutney Wyndham: Megan Moylan
Ensemble: Leonardo Altafini, Joey Anchondo, Harley Barton, Gavin Austin Brown, Trey DeGroodt, Joel Duke, Melissa Mitchell, Megan Moylan, Michael Schulz, Adam Shaff, Laurie Trygg, Ali Whitwell

Photo: Courtesy Arizona Broadway Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix