Omigod, you guys! Legally Blonde is a gigantic crowd-pleasing Sorority Party! Directed by Michael McKelvey, Blonde is a laugh riot with an enormously talented cast.
The show, based on the film of the same name, follows perky Malibu Barbie, Elle Woods, as she follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School in the hopes to prove to him that she’s smart and worthy of marrying him. Of course, along the way Elle learns that she should focus on fulfilling herself rather than fulfilling a man (yes, even blondes with hair extensions can be feminists), and then predictably falls for another guy (okay, maybe they’re not feminists after all).
Despite the obvious mixed messages that the show gives to young women, it’s still enjoyable, sweet, and often hysterical, and SummerStock Austin handles the material extraordinarily well.
As with his production of Chess, which utilizes the same space, the same set (with a few clever cover-ups and disguises by Set Designer Leilah Stewart), and much of the same cast, director Michael McKelvey lessens the blow of the weaker points of the show by focusing on the relationships between characters. Though the original Broadway version of Legally Blonde was labeled by many critics as the first star vehicle written in years, McKelvey’s version seems even more so. In his Blonde, Elle is a woman around whom the entire zany world revolves.
And as Elle, that world falls squarely on the shoulders of the very capable Taylor Bryant. Ms. Bryant is a skilled singer, a brilliant comedienne, and a dancer who rocks the original Tony nominated choreography by Jerry Mitchell like a pro. The fact that Ms. Bryant is going into her senior year of High School makes her performance downright unbelievable. Like most actresses, she doesn’t ever allow Elle to be labeled a ditzy blonde, and yet she does make another rather bold choice. While most actresses play Elle as a girl who is constantly pining for the guy who got away until she’s derailed by her mentor/new crush, Bryant plays Elle as a girl who’s always looking for love and acceptance, not just from the ex but from everyone she comes across. It motivates everything she does, from applying to Harvard to win her ex back to her friendship with her hairdresser to her relationship with her new beau. It may be a different approach, but it pays off and makes Elle even more human and sympathetic. You want to root for this girl because let’s face it, you want love and acceptance, too.
Though Taylor Bryant carries this show, there are many others who deliver goods worthy of the display window at Barney’s. As Professor Callahan, Michael Fariss clearly relishes being an arrogant, pompous, self-righteous, sexist jerk, and his golden voice takes his character to a delightfully sinister level. Rachel Dunk proves to be a gifted comic with a stellar voice, perfect timing, and hysterical expressions as Elle’s hairdresser friend, Paulette. And as the leaders among Elle’s sorority sisters, Jacobi Alvares, Taylor Edwards, and Bethany Schell all get plenty of laughs. They are downright charming. But the cast as a whole is infallible. While Legally Blonde is a silly, feel-good show, it is by no means an easy one. The score by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin is an uneven mix of Broadway, pop, rap, and even reggae styles, and the cast attacks the material with gusto and enthusiasm. The fact that they attack the Broadway choreography with the same fearlessness is jaw-dropping.
Legally Blonde is a fun, frothy Cozmo, a sweet concoction for the summer, and with more energy than a 24 pack of Red Bull. Be sure to see this one. It will tickle you pink, and to the cast, I say in my best Elle Woods voice, “Snap it out!”
Legally Blonde plays the Rollins Studio Theatre at The Long Center this Friday, August 10th at 7:30pm and Sunday, August 12th at 7:30pm. For tickets, please visit www.summerstockaustin.org
Run time: 2 hours 20 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission