Arlington — What’s pink and pink and, er, pink all over? From posters to programs to stage, it’s director Adam Adolfo’s high-energy, dance-happy production of Legally Blonde: The Musical at Theatre Arlington. Pink is pretty and perky, of course, but in this show the “P” is for power, too—Girl Power, going after what it wants and getting it, with a great big smile and a spine of pure steel.
Elle Woods, we’re happy to see you again—come on down!
Adolfo’s way with musicals (In the Heights, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), honed during the years he led Fort Worth-based Artes de la Rosa, is on full display. He’s teamed up with choreographer Austin Ray Beck (another ADLR veteran), and together they pull some fun and flashy dancing from a spirited ensemble. Adolfo and casting associate Elise Lavallee have put together a fresh, go-get-‘em mix of actors, some seen in other TA shows this season, others drawn from the Artes musicals—plus sparkling young newcomer Avery Gray (who plays Elle), straight from her music theater classes at Texas Christian University.
Heather Hach’s script for the show sticks fairly close to the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie, and the plot feels as blissfully batty now as it seemed then. Still, it seems rude to poke holes. Who says a pretty California girl (majoring in fashion merchandising and sorority life) can’t get into Harvard Law? How elitist. This is America—where everyone knows any dream can come true, right?
Elle Wood has her future mapped out—that is, until her smart, success-driven boyfriend Warner (smooth-voiced Branden A. Bailey) dumps her at college graduation. He’s headed for Harvard Law, and though they’ve had fun, it’s time for him “to get serious” and look for a brilliant, well-connected woman to marry. Elle is a Marilyn, Warner tells her—and he needs a Jackie.
Elle and her Delta Nu crew dance their way through the stages of grief (“She’s eating Milky Ways!”) and then Elle, who’s not the type to give up, hatches a plan. She’ll study verrrrry hard, ace the LSATs, and snag a spot at Harvard Law…all to catch up with Warner and try to change his mind.
So that’s how it goes—and why not? Legally Blonde has a sassy, unembarrassed way of throwing a little of everything into the pot (or plot), no matter how unexpected: a “bit with a dog” (Dolly Parton is adorably wide-eyed as Elle’s Chihuahua Bruiser); a dramatic courtroom trial (with boy toys); an outbreak of Irish dancing; a Greek chorus of sorority sisters.
This isn’t deep stuff—but it’s fun, especially watching Elle become the darling of some hilariously different American subcultures: Delta Nu, Harvard Law, a local beauty salon, the high-wire world of litigation. Her sorority friends can’t do without her; the smug law students sneer (“One of these things is not like the others,” they warble) but can’t resist her; the beauty shop owner all but adopts Elle, offering her a quirky home away from home. In this pleasantly feminist fable, if Elle finds new ways to think about where she could go in life, it’s because all these good/bad/different people become a part of it.
The show’s songs, from the husband-wife team of Laurence O’Keefe (Bat Boy) and Nell Benjamin, aren’t supremely memorable, but they work in the moment—and the sharp humor of the lyrics comes as a nice surprise. Under music director Alex Vorse, ensemble singing (both in large and smaller groupings) is vibrant and clear; just one among several nice clusters are the singers of Elle’s ever-present sorority chorus, Cayley N. Davis, Summer Perrin, Arianna Reyher and Chelsea Harp.
There are strong performances and vocals from the lead actors: Gray makes a smart, spunky and endlessly energetic Elle, and Lori Woods (Miss Adelaide in TA’s Guys and Dolls) is loveable as lonely beauty shop owner Paulette. Jordan Justice brings a great voice, winning smile and good-guy charm to the role of Elle’s helpful Harvard friend Emmett, and Bailey plays the thankless (though tuneful) role of bad boyfriend Warner with just the right touch of oblivious cool.
In fact, the cast is crowded with actors who bring something extra to their roles. Lorens Portalatin and Kimberly Billins-Oliver are intimidating (but funny, too) as hyper-achieving Harvard students Enid and Vivienne (she’s Warner’s new girlfriend). Actor-comedian Kyle R. Trentham prowls and growls as predatory professor Callahan, on the lookout for law students who might grow up to be “sharks” like him. Jeni Roller exudes power (and swings a mean jump rope) as Brooke Wyndham, the multimedia fitness queen on trial for murder who needs help from Callahan and his team of law students. Keith J. Warren is a hoot as the hunky UPS guy (“I’ve got a package!”) who starts delivering to Paulette’s salon, and Xavier Orozco smolders as Brooke’s pool boy Carlos, whose confusing love life almost shuts down her trial.
This is a big, busy production; keep your feet tucked in, or you might trip a few actors singing and dancing in the aisles. Ashley Peisher’s costumes, Kyle Harris’ lighting, and scenic designs and art from Tony Curtis and Kate Myers (gotta love the Laugh-In-style windows that have actors popping out almost into the audience) bring plenty of sparkle to the show, as do Bill Eickenloff’s clever sound touches. Dog handler Heather Moore merits a special note: she keeps tabs on both Bruiser and the show’s “other” pooch Rufus (Angel Woods Blondin is a tiny bundle of cute)—and both dogs are rescue animals.
Theatre Arlington executive director Valerie Galloway announced the company's picks for the 2017-2018 season on opening night. Filling the same "musical" slot next year as Legally Blonde will be Footloose. The lineup also will include the funny and touching William Inge classic Bus Stop; two plays about artists, John Logan's Red and Rebecca Gilman's The Sweetest Swing in Baseball; a Forever Plaid holiday show; A.R. Gurney's offbeat comedy Sylvia: and children's productions of Shrek Jr. and Stellaluna.