Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Kaukauna troupe’s ‘Legally Blonde’ crackles

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Kaukauna troupe’s ‘Legally Blonde’ crackles

The musical thrives on the young cast’s spark.

KAUKAUNA, Wis. (WFRV) – Serious energy drives Kaukauna Community Players’ production of “Legally Blonde, The Musical,” playing through Saturday, June 28, at Kaukauna High School. Info: www.kaukaunacommunityplayers.com.

The atmosphere was so charged outside the theater following the opening night performance Wednesday – so filled with joy and EXCITEMENT – that one might have thought a team won a championship. It was fascinating to experience. And rare.

Much of the cast is college age, and the story’s theme of self esteem suits the ideals of that age group. The company buys into the message big time and delivers the show with a sense of feeling and fun.

The production (4 stars out of 5) has strong voices at the top, much animation in ensemble dances and a can-do attitude. Obstacles are brushed aside by the sheer force of the dynamic company and its lead, Kadie Smith, as the buoyant Elle Woods, an attorney in the making no matter what.

Attention is grabbed in the first minutes when Elle Woods arrives from above, “flown” in on a columned platform. Kadie Smith captures the nuances of Elle Woods as Elle rises above crushing disappointments time after time, plus she consistently sings with brightness, strength and color. It’s a demanding role – 12 songs for Elle – and Kadie Smith pours her heart and soul into it.

The production has many other pluses:

- The choreography of director AJ VandenHeuvel. Many scenes are scenes of fast motion, plus some acrobatics. “Whipped into Shape,” led by Jennifer Boots, is among the juiced-up scenes.

- As Elle’s hairdresser friend, Paulette, Amanda Petersen Fails unleashes a powerhouse “Ireland,” laced with wry humor.

- The Greek Chorus is a gas; a kind of Elle alter ego en masse, with a sassy sense of humor.

- Speaking of sassy sense of humor, the “Gay or European” song/scene is a showstopper as the cast gets into the multiple meanings that the show’s creators toss about.

-  Elle’s love interests are convincingly played – Leland Raymond as the overly ambitious guy who dumps her (and Elle continues pursuing anyway, all the way into the elite Harvard Law School) and Tom Bebeau as the nice, helpful guy Elle meets in law school.

- Kyle S. Brauer plays the Harvard professor, and he scores with a strong voice while creating immediate hate for the prof. in “Blood in the Water.”

Mostly, the show runs smoothly – a nice feat for a cast of 40, plus 11 musicians, beside all the crew help.

The show is interesting, entertaining, funny, touching, provoking and lively. If only that opening-night electricity in the lobby could be harnessed – we could begin to power the world.

***

Creative: Music and lyrics – Laurence O’Keefe, Neil Benjamin; book – Heather Hach; based on the novel by Amanda Brown; artistic director, choreographer – AJ VandenHeuvel; assistant director Kristin Underwood; music director – Becky O’Brien; set designer – Andrew Schmitz; scenic engineer – Darryl Rantanen; lighting design – Alex Peck; rehearsal accompanist – Brenda Nejedlo; orchestra conductor – John Quigley.

Cast: Elle Woods – Kadie Smith; Emmett Forrest – Tom Bebeau; Warner Huntington III – Leland Raymond; Paulette Bonafonte – Amanda Peterson Fails; Professor Callahan – Kyle S. Brauer; Margot – Katana Goss; Serena – Tonie Yankowski; Pilar – Kate Sawyer; Gaelen – Kim Schreiber; Kate – Emily Brandt; Leilani – Maggie Voss; Sales Woman – Megan Holzschuh; Sales Manager/Whitney – Laura Oudenhoven; Elle’s Dad – Scott Felten; Elle’s Mom – Linda Felten; Grandmaster Chad – Noah Frazier; Wintrop/Nikos – Will Anderson; Lowell – Theron Tracanna; Pforzheimer/Kiki – Nick Lamers; Aaron Schultz – Connor Zorrow; Sundeep Padaman/Carlos – Michael Jacobs; Enid Hoops – Kira Liesch; Vivienne Kensington – Brittney Leonhardt; Dewey – Tommy Micke; Brooke Wyndham – Jennifer Boots; Kyle – Eric Schommer; TV Reporter – Jerry Brien; Attorney – Olivia Haven; Judge – Claudia Weaver; Chutney Wyndham – Laura Weaver; Ensemble – Mike Brown, Katie DeBruin, Riley Gulbronson, Alex Hackel, McKenzi Jahnke, Emma Knick, Kiana Leisch, William O’Brien, Christina Olson, Bailey Underwood.

Songs

Act I

“Omigod You Guys” – Elle, Serena, Margot, Pilar, Ensemble

“Serious” – Elle, Warner

“What You Want” – Elle, Serena, Margot, Pilar, Kate, Elle’s Parents, Ensemble

“The Harvard Variations” – Emmett, Aaron, Enid, Padamadan, Harvard Students

“Blood in the Water” – Callahan, Ensemble

“Positive” – Elle, Serena, Margot, Pilar, Greek Chorus

Ireland” – Paulette

Ireland” (Reprise) – Paulette

“Serious” (Reprise) – Elle, Warner

“Chip on My Shoulder” – Elle, Emmett, Greek Chorus, Ensemble

“So Much Better” – Elle, Greek Chorus, Ensemble

Act II

“Whipped Into Shape” – Brooke, Callahan, Ensemble

“Take It Like a Man” – Elle, Emmett, Salespeople

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

“Gay or European” – Elle, Callahan, Emmett, Brooke, Vivienne, Warner, Enid, Judge, Nikos, Carlos, Ensemble

“Legally Blonde” – Elle, Emmett

“Legally Blonde Remix” – Vivienne, Elle, Enid, Brooke, Elle’s Parents, Ensemble

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

***

VENUE: The 806-seat Bernie Hupperts Center for the Performing Arts is located in Kaukauna High School, which was built in 1999. The theater includes a 50-foot fly loft, an orchestra pit and a spacious stage footprint. The auditorium’s traditional burgundy color scheme is complemented with such design elements as natural oak woodwork and a stained concrete proscenium frame. Acoustic clouds are suspended wood panels. The “lobby” is a spacious public commons that also serves the adjacent gymnasium.

THE PERSON: Bernie Hupperts was a longtime arts instructor at Kaukauna High who was instrumental in launching the Kaukauna Community Players in 1982. He is retired.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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