Regional Reviews: Seattle
Legally Blonde at Second Story Rep is Illegally Entertaining
Also see David's review of Cabaret
Though it was tepidly received on Broadway, Legally Blonde, the sweet, smart, sassy, tuneful, and funny musical based on the Reese Witherspoon hit movie, is a certified homerun for the enterprising Second Story Rep in Redmond. The lead performance by rising star Kristin Burch as Elle Woods will make you say OMG you guys, as she is that talented and perfectly cast by sharp director Matt Wolfe, who packs more fun onto the SSR stage than should be legal.
Plot-wise, the musical's book by Heather Hach deferentially covers almost plot point for plot point that of the movie screenplay, in which sorority president Elle Woods, just graduated with a degree in fashion merchandising, is jilted by college boyfriend Warner Huntington III, who has decided she isn't the right fit for his upwardly mobile career aspirations in politics. Elle, determined to get back and stand by her man, takes a Harvard Law exam and achieves an impossibly high score. Accepted, she looks up Warner, who is now reunited with his old flame, the rather cold and icy Vivian. Discouraged but undaunted, Elle gets support from her zany manicurist Paulette, and Emmett, a young attorney who works for the moody Professor Callahan. She becomes a legal intern for Callahan, along with Warner and Vivian. They all take part in a murder case with a non-compliant suspect named Brooke Wyndham, who is being tried for the murder of her wealthy husband. Twists and turns aplenty and some big laughs fill the last third of this show, propelled by the effervescent and adroit songs penned by husband and wife team Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin (he of Bat Boy fame). The creative team also found an adroit way to incorporate more of Elle's sorority sister BFFs in the show, by making them a Greek Chorus that Elle (and eventually Paulette) hears in her head.
Director Wolfe has found just the right cast to play the larger than life characters. As mentioned at the top, Kristin Burch should soon be a familiar face at Seattle's larger musical theatre companies, if they can find roles as suitable for her as Elle. Burch is in that rarefied niche of Leading Lady Character Actress (think Kristin Chenoweth) and she and Wolfe guide this Elle on a stronger character arc than usual. At the outset she may be Delta Nu's favorite child, but she is a bit of an unpleasant airhead who has some growing up to do. Not that it takes long for this Elle to gain our sympathy. With comic chops and a robust voice, Burch is swell, and she can melt your heart in her rendition of the title tune. Tadd Morgan is endearing and adorably nerdy as Emmett, Elle's ultimate one and only, and he handles his vocals on songs like the clever "Chip on My Shoulder" with aplomb. Nicholas Tarabini scores as the social climbing Warner and proves his musical mettle early on in the duet "Serious" where Warner dumps Elle. Britt Boyd was made for the role of Paulette, and adds some contemporary flair and an extra helping of heart to what could be just another clichéd man-hungry best friend role. Her delivery of one of the score's best songs, a wacky, out of nowhere ode to "Ireland," is pure joy.
Veteran character man Eric Hartley takes on a change of pace bad guy role as the strict and shady Professor Callahan, and shows off his fine voice with "Blood in the Water." Brynn Geiszler goes smoothly from snarky to sympathetic as Warner's wealthy fiancée Vivienne. Hayley Ewerz is comic bliss as the secret-keeping defendant Brooke Wyndham, and Natalie Ann Moe is equally funny as Elle's Harvard classmate Enid. Devon Allen is hilariously fey all the way in a succession of roles, including that of Brooke's boy toy Nikos, around whom the funniest song in the score, which goes by the cleverly spoiler concealing title "There! Right There!," is performed. Last but definitely not least as Elle's inner voices Pilar, Margot, and Serena are the wildly talented trio of Sarah Russell, Krista Johnson, and Tatum Ludlam.
Musical direction by Kim Douglass is exemplary, Kate Kingery's choreography is swingin' and makes good use of style considerations in the cozy confines of SSR, where the design team known as the Squolf has a spiffy set and lighting and sound designs well in hand, and costume designer Jocelyne Fowler provides an appealing array of looks for the fairly large company.
Legally Blonde is one of the first must see shows I have seen this year, especially if you have never seen it before.
Legally Blonde runs through May 31, 2015, at Second Story Rep in Redmond Town Center, Redmond WA. For tickets (the show has been selling out) and info go to www.secondstoryrep.org.- David Edward Hughes