NME After Print: Omigod! Legally Blonde makes the grade
Thursday night turned out to be a field trip with friends as we went out to preview the latest production at Albuquerque Little Theater's, Legally Blonde the Musical, directed by Bill Potenziani with choreography by Peter Bennett and musical direction by Shelly Andes. I was experiencing this show as a newborn. I was familiar with the feature films - and yes, I loved both of them - but when it came to the musical, I knew nothing. My good friend was excited to see it. Continuously repeating “Omigod, Omigod, you guys”, of course, not realizing that they were lyrics to the show. So after my one, maybe two, glasses of wine, we headed over to see what the show was all about.
The opening number was adorable, but nerves were obvious with the cast. They had some uneven excitement and expression for the first four bars. Once warmed up, they really welcomed the audience in. I did notice that the wait for laughs wasn’t there, like the moment one of the girls ask Bruiser, Elle’s loving dog, where Elle was. No time was taken play up the bit, but it got better as the show went on. Then, Elle, played by Virginia Asbury, took the stage. If there was ever a perfect Elle, it’s Asbury. Not only does she have the look, but she also has the voice. Not only that, she has something that was equally important - comic timing. She knew when to rest and let the laughter come in and then move forward. Warner, played by Stafford Douglas, was the perfect mix of sexy and arrogant. The only thing I noticed with Douglas is his need to work with one hand, keeping the other in the pockets of his pants or coat, keeping him a little bit contained. But the two as a couple worked very well.
I was surprised that, with this show, even some of the smallest roles made an impression. The trio who played the Harvard committee played up their moment on stage. The personal essay section of What You Want was an excellent adaptation showing us why Elle belongs at Harvard. Then, of course, we head to Harvard and meet more of the cast, including Emmett Forrest, played by Bryan Durden. Durden, who made great reviews with Musical Theater Southwest’s production of Shrek, presented a side of Emmett I was not expecting. His accent felt inspired by Billy Joel and John F. Kennedy and I appreciate that he chose to go that route with the character. But the thing that I liked was Durden provided a heartfelt and generous profile, showing us that he wasn’t one of those preppy, uppity kids that Harvard spews out, but someone who worked his butt off to get to where he was and gives Elle that grounded influence she needed. Take it Like a Man was a moment that Durden shows the audience that Emmett can still be himself while looking good on the outside. But, for me, when Enid Hoopes, played by Samantha Orner took the stage, a character that was slightly presented in the film, she was a hilarious comic relief - which I shared with her on the way home when we were side-by-side on Central in our cars…I’m sure I scared her to death.
A few more characters that made an impression, for better or worse, were Professor Callahan played by B. Chris Armijo, Vivienne Kensington, played by Angelique Felice and The Greek Chorus. Armijo’s interpretation of Callahan seemed part car salesman part GoodFellas, showing the whole smarmy lawyer side you would expect but just needed a little bit more charm to really draw the audience in. Felice embodied Vivienne - the right combination of snobbiness and bitchy - exactly what you look for in that character. Not only were the acting chops down, the girl has a voice! The note she belts on the song Legally Blonde made me take a step back - amazing. Let me take a moment to give props to The Greek Chorus - Margot, Serena, and Pilar - played by Sage Herreck, Rachel Blount, and Latasha Whitmore. They were a hoot being the inner thoughts for Elle, shaking junk on the stage on Positive.
The character that was larger than life for me was Paulette Bonafonté, played by Courtney Awe - and her last name was fitting, she had me in awe. Awe was excellent. A sassy lass with a strong Boston accent and attitude. She offered such comic relief that I was excited every time she came on stage and her chemistry with Kyle, the sexy UPS delivery guy (played by Samuel Glinsmann) is terrific.
Now, there’s Brooke Wyndham, the fitness entrepreneur charged with murder, played by Erin Allen. Allen was one of the most upbeat moments of the show choosing to make the character a feisty Jersey girl delivering lines with such whit and being another strong voice in the cast. Plus, I have to give her snaps - yep that’s right, snaps - for having the ability to jump rope and sing at the same time during the number Whipped into Shape. Wyndham’s court case scene offered some hilarious moments including Gay or European, where Nikos, played by Bradley Fuller, made me laugh - a lot and loudly - along with Carlos, played by Lando Ruiz.
One thing that was very evident was that music was a priority over dance. I have mentioned many times in other reviews that musicals are a triple threat - acting, singing and dancing. You must have all three equally to have a strong show. With this show, music was the main focus. Choreography, while cute, seemed to be an afterthought. With Albuquerque Little Theater soon producing well-known musicals that have a high level of dancing, they need to take a step back and think - do they have the best people (choreographers, dancers, etc.) on board to make these shows look like they would on Broadway, even if it is on a community stage? This is what the public is looking for when they have a night out at the theater. Just something to think about.
Oh, and I must give praise to the design teams who handle the costume, set, lighting, and props for the show. Even though simplistic, the design still took us to all the locations the musical offered and added to the mood and emotion of show. Nice job.
All and all, Legally Blonde is an entertaining night out and it was evident that everyone worked hard to make that happen. With shows like The Rocky Horror Show running up against this musical, I think there is enough room to give this musical a shot. I guarantee you the laughs will be continuous and your will leave singing “Omigod, Omigod, you guys” - trust me, I did.