Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Legally Blonde, The Musical' sparkles in Green Bay

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre & Dance and Music

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Three big deals about the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre & Dance and Music production of “Legally Blonde, The Musical”…

One. Emily Ahrens is dynamic in the leading role of Elle Woods, who dumps her high-fashion slick-magazine/Malibu-façade ways in pursuit of love (with the wrong guy).

Two. Electronic backdrops allow the show to flow from coast to coast in exterior and interior (and Elle’s diary-like) images that are neat and clean. Props and set pieces still are changed in and out for physical elements for the performers, but the video presentation helps set all in the mind’s eye.

Three. “Legally Blonde, The Musical” is popular. University Theatre in Theatre Hall was full for opening night Thursday. It’s always fun to be part of a show with buzz. Two more performances remain to Saturday, Nov. 18.

While the production is not the ultimate in perfection – sound glitches, some singing roles more acted than sung, occasional orchestra overplay – it is pretty darn good.

The role of Elle is clever/snappy/optimistic/American to start with. The creators are extremely knowing about not only Elle but stuff in the American fabric in life styles and attitudes; this is somewhat stereotypical, but who cares when you’re having fun?

In the story, Elle is the epitome of looks over content – the blonde joke. Her view of the future includes idyllic life with the ambitious Warner Huntington III (Adam Rosenow). Warner’s picture is with someone on his arm who is classier than a Barbie Doll. Off

Warner goes to Harvard and its meat-grinder law school. Never losing her sweeping Fourth of July fireworks pizzazz, Elle leaps into this bully environment. Elle finds Warner has a new, hoity-toity girlfriend, Vivienne Kensington (Andrea Kuhlow), locks horns with bone-crusher Professor Callahan (Matt Courchaine) and meets up with helpful nice-guy legal assistant, Emmett Forrest (Chase Grabowski). Up pops a seemingly impossible case with a fitness queen, Brooke Wyndham (Faith Klick), accused of murdering her husband.

The show never quits for action, and the cast is all for it in movement and character color.

The Elle role is quite the showcase. The performer has to sing, dance, act and be a quick-change clothes horse. Emily Arhens has a condensed high voice to carry the songs (and lift one big note), is constantly “on” in bright character and looks to be a Size 2 and just right for all the sleek and fashion-pleasing outfits she wears. Ahrens fits the bill to help give great zing to this production. (The photo above from a rehearsal misleads a bit. Ahrens wears a shoulder-length, radiant-blonde wig in the performance).

Thanks to director Laura Riddle and her skillful colleagues, coordination is everywhere in the production – the ensemble dances, character interplay and sheer audio-visual teaming.

Guinevere Casper is another standout as Paulette, the hairdresser whose stomped-upon life turns for the best on visions of Ireland.

Chase Grabowski is effective as Emmett Forrest, who builds some sense into Elle. Grabowski and Ahrens nicely share the key song, “Legally Blonde.”

The show is immediately impressive. The proscenium stage is outlined in the manner of an ancient Grecian temple with hints of the Harvard campus look. In place of a keystone, the words “LEGALLY BLONDE” stand solid. Instead of columns, 25-foot-tall impressions of the statue La Justicia seem to hold up the pediment. This is the iconic figure – the female Justice being blindfolded, with a sword in one hand and scales in the other. When the curtain opens, revealed is a straightforward outline of a Grecian temple that frames the screen on which all the projections are seen.

A gripe: Somehow, some people believe they are special. A woman within my eyesight texted for 15 minutes during the show. If I were within reach, I would have done what the people next to her should have done, lean over and whisper, “Shut that thing off. It’s distracting.” Texting during performance is a selfish act and demeaning of others. Ahhh, there, I feel better.

***

Creative: Music and lyrics – Laurence O’Keefe, Neil Benjamin; book – Heather Hach; based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the motion picture; director – Laura Riddle; musical director – Courtney Sherman; choreographer – by Denise Carlson-Gardner; scenic designer – Jeffrey Paul Entwistle; costume designer – Kaoime E. Malloy; light and sound designer – Ted O. Rhyner; projection design – Matthew Beecher; technical director – Ted O. Rhyner; assistant technical director – David Cook; production stage manager – Elizabeth Seidl

Cast: Elle Woods – Emily Ahrens; Emmett Forrest – Chase Grabowski; Paulette – Guinevere Casper; Professor Callahan – Matt Courchaine; Serena – Hayley Eastman; Pilar – Sara Eastman; Brooke Wyndam – Faith Klick; Vivienne Kensington – Andrea Kuhlow; Margo – Raquel Lopez; Warner Huntington III – Adam Rosenow; Enid – Liz Valentin; Ensemble – Hayden Barlass, Kevin Cervantes, Andrea Cornett, Jaquan Davenport, Selena Deer, Andrew Delaurelle, Alyssa Hannam, Julia Kreitzer, Kassie Laylan, Amanda Meo, Ryan Rickard, Aisa Rogers, Chay Schmitt, Emilie Sullivan; Bruiser (dog) – Ruby; Rufus (dog) – Fritz

Orchestra: Conductor – Courtney Sherman; keyboards – Emily Sculliuffo, Beth Waldeck, Lorelei Zimmerman; trumpets – James Block, Zachary Mizgalski, Ellen Reber; trombone – William Burroughs; reeds – Laura Cortright, Kelton Jennings, Rebekah Noll; guitar – Jason Ocasio; bass – Collin Catalano; drums – Drew Westlund; percussion – Sawyer Sendelbach

Running time: Two hours, 25 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17, Nov. 18

Info: weidnercenter.com

***

Musical numbers

Act I

Overture – Orchestra

“Omigod You Guys” – Elle and Delta Nus

“Serious” – Warner and Elle

“What You Want” – Elle, Delta Nus and Company

“The Harvard Variations” – Emmett and Harvard Students

“Blood in the Water” – Callahan and Harvard Students

“Positive” – Elle and Delta Nus

“Ireland” – Paulette

“Ireland” (Reprise) – Paulette

“Serious” (Reprise) – Elle and Warner

“Chip on My Shoulder” – Elle, Emmett and Delta Nus

“Elle Reflects” – Elle and Emmett

“So Much Better” – Elle and Company

Act II

Entr’acte – Orchestra

“Whipped into Shape” – Brooke, Callahan and Company

“Take It Like a Man” – Elle, Emmett and Company

“Bend and Snap” – Elle, Paulette, Serena, Margot, Pilar and Company

“Gay or European” – Company

“Legally Blonde” – Elle and Emmett

“Legally Blonde Remix” – Company

“Find My Way/Finale” – Elle, Paulette, Emmett and Company

Bows – Orchestra and Company

***

NEXT: “Wonder of the World” by David Lindsay-Abaire, Feb. 22-24, 28-March 3.

THE VENUE: Of 1970s vintage, the 450-seat University Theatre is a complex facility inside Theatre Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The theater features a proscenium (flat front) stage that’s 50 feet across and 23 feet high. The seats are a calm shade of red fabric, black plastic backs and light brown arms. The concrete walls gray and slightly angled. The ceiling is a semi-dark green/blue for the coverings ventilating/electrical equipment. Concrete dominates the room – the floor, the walls, the stairs. Aisle carpeting is a flecked gray. The seating area in front of the stage is adjustable to accommodate an orchestra pit when needed. The theater includes two seating areas – a lower one 20 or so feet deep on a slight incline that reaches a poured concrete wall and the upper one above that “moat” that rises sharply and creates an amphitheater effect. The theater may be entered from the lower or upper level.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.


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