I have a confession. I love Legally Blonde the Musical. Not a vague kind of love, reserved for cute animals and free parking, and not a brooding kind of love, the way many English majors feel about Shakespeare or James Joyce.
Legally Blonde the Musical has always put a kick in my step, brought me to hums and grins. And please don’t ask me if I know the words to every song by heart. I would be forced to tell you the truth.
This secret Legally Blonde love, I feared, would hamper my review of Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia’s latest production. Legally Blonde is more than an insanely catchy score and burst of energy, after all. It’s a recipe with ingredients that need to be carefully measured. Creating that much fun isn’t easy. Truly.
Legally Blonde the Musical debuted on Broadway in 2007. With a book by Heather Hach, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe, and Broadway powerhouse Laura Bell Bundy leading as Elle Woods, it bagged 7 Tony nominations and even merited an MTV taping of a live performance (yes, I DVR-ed it).
But for its mostly positive reviews and sizeable fanfare, it closed after 595 regular performances. Too short a run, in my opinion. (And no, I didn’t get to see it.) After these passing, deprived years, I’m finally okay with that. Why? Directed by Mark Minnick, Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia has delivered all the goods Legally Blonde has to offer. Every single one of them.
Legally Blonde is based on the 2001 film about a young woman named Elle Woods (Jessica Lauren Ball) who enters Harvard Law School in an attempt to win back the love of her college sweetheart, Warner (Austin Vandyke Colby). Elle’s “Marilyn” vibe doesn’t garner a warm East Coast reception, though, and she struggles to find her way in her new world. Hairdresser Paulette (Priscilla Cuellar) befriends the discouraged Elle, as does young lawyer Emmit (Jeffrey Shankle). Elle encounters ruthless professors (Lawrence B. Munsey as the slippery Professor Callahan), skeptical competition (Jennie Lutz as Enid and Elizabeth Rayca as Vivienne) and a gaggle of law students convinced Elle should go back to California. Luckily for Elle, her Delta Nu sorority sisters are there in spirit every step of the way (Mary Searcy, Marykate Brouillet, Julia Lancione). She needs them more than ever when a young fitness entrepreneur Brooke Windham (Heather Marie Beck) is charged with murder, and her fate is left in Elle’s hands.
From the show’s opening number with the talented sisters of Delta Nu, “OhmyGod You Guys,” the switch of life is ON. One gets the impression that the audience, still digesting their meals, isn’t entirely prepared for the surge.
As the glowing, kind, and full-of-life Elle Woods, Jessica Lauren Ball is an absolute force. With an unparalleled voice and pitch-perfect energy, Jessica offers up that extra ingredient necessary for a show like this to truly succeed: heart. Not only has she embodied Elle as the kind of protagonist the audience wants to see win out, but the kind of protagonist the audience can see within themselves. It’s a heavy show to carry on one’s back, and she appears to hardly break a sweat. Her performance shines in a way that all the textbook talent in the world can’t produce.
The ensemble (Jordan Andre, Jay Garrick, Adam Grabau, David Gregor, Katie Heidbreder, Maura Hogan, David James, Moses Rodrigues, Neil Rushnock, Janine Gulisano-Sunday, Patricia Targete, Danny Tippett) brings this musical to its fullest potential, under the wing of musical director Ross Scott Rawlings. Frat boys, law students, store clerks, jailbirds, jump ropes. The pace never slows. With lightning fast costume changes, set design by David A. Hopkins, and lighting by Coleen Foley, the space stays as sharp as the characters who inhabit it.
Priscilla Cuellar as Paulette is as strong a comic as she is a vocalist, and spear-heads the show’s arguably most uproarious number. Did I mention how fun this show is? How absolutely, toe-tapping, knee-slapping, cat-calling fun this show is? Numbers such as “There! Right There!” and “Bend and Snap” bring even the quietest audience members out of their shells, while “So Much Better,” “What You Want,” and “Take It Like a Man” showcase the delights of a true pop score.
Kudos to Mark Minnick for choreography and Lawrence B. Munsey for those vivid costumes.
When I walk into a theatre, I walk out expecting to have been transported. Sometimes I’m taken to a dark place, a meditative place, a nostalgic place. Legally Blonde takes the audience to a happy place. A place of strength, a place of optimism, a place of trying again. Most importantly, Legally Blonde takes you to a place of self love. Keep going, keep challenging, and if you can sing and dance a little on the way, well that’s just like, totally awesome.
Legally Blonde: The Musical runs thru Sept 2, 2012 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD.
Legally Blonde: The Musical
Music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe . Book by Heather Hach
Directed by Mark Minnick
Musical Direction by Ross Scott Rawlings
Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia
Reviewed by Sarah Ameigh
Tracy Danoff . BroadwayWorld
Mary Johnson . Baltimore Sun
Jennifer Gusso . ShowBizRadio
Dylan Roche . PasadenaVoice
Steve Charing . MDTheatreGuide
Mike Giuliano . ExploreHoward
Amanda Gunther . DCMetroTheaterArts
Jack L. B. Gohn . BroadwayWorld