REVIEW: "Legally Blonde Jr., The Musical" — Morgan-Wixson Theatre
“Legally Blonde Jr.” — So Much Fun It Should be Illegal!
Exploding on the stage with memorable songs and dynamic dances, beginning with the rousing, high energy number “Omigod You Guys,” Harvard's beloved blonde takes the spotlight at Morgan-Wixson Theatre by glittery pink storm.
In this upbeat adaptation of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hit film and award-winning Broadway musical, “Legally Blonde,” a fabulously fun journey awaits of self-empowerment and expanding horizons.
As their first show of the 2019-20 Y.E.S. season, designed for younger thespians, Director Anne Gesling and Producers Tracy Saltzman and Miriam Billington brings “Legally Blonde Jr., The Musical” to the popular Santa Monica theatre, set to run from November 9th through the 14th. Based on the original novel by Amanda Brown, with book by Heather Hach and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, each scene contains a showy, vivid, riot of color, lionizing a spunky, effervescent young woman who uses academia as a springboard to romance.
Headlined by the always graceful and bubbly, blonde bombshell Daisy Billington (“42nd Street,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie”), the musical will take you from the sorority house to Harvard, and on to the halls of justice, featuring women’s brightest heroine, Elle Woods. Elle’s a Gemini with a double Capricorn moon, a Sigma Sweetheart, President of Delta Nu sorority and also founded the charity “Shop for a Cause.”
Ms. Billington captures Elle’s innate sweetness and adorable charm perfectly in the show and has a phenomenal soprano voice along with the ability to pull off a lot of quick-witted humor. Her rapid rise to attorney extraordinaire may be a bit fanciful in realistic terms, but all the same, you’ll be rooting for this “believe in yourself” Malibu Barbie as she tackles stereotypes, preppy snobs and lecherous tutors in pursuit of her dreams. With equal parts hilarious and heart-warming and boasting a spunky, talented ensemble (who seem to drink a lot of Red Bull), this show is so much fun it should be illegal!
It’s almost impossible to believe MGM’s "Legally Blonde" came out more than 18 years ago. It was 2001 when Elle Woods decided she was going to try to win back the man who dumped her by attending law school with him at Harvard. Yes, we all know it's much harder for the rest of us to get into Harvard Law School than it is for the charmed Elle Woods, but to ask her to live by the same laws of physics as the rest of us would rob the show of its sparkle. And this was never supposed to be a realistic law school environment anyway. After all, we are talking about the famous Elle, her designer duds, her love of manicures, her bonhomie, her plucky determination and her "growth" as a person. So what do you call a blonde with half a brain? Gifted!
The charmingly caddish Warner Huntington III (personified by Lucas Wurman, “Rent,” “Spring Awakening”) sees the sparkle, but it's not enough. As the scion of a wealthy East Coast family, he ditches sorority queen Elle just when she thinks he’s going to propose, because he's headed to Harvard Law and needs a more "serious" girlfriend. "I need a Jackie, not a Marilyn," he tells the aghast Elle. Dumped but not completely down, she decides she'll go to Harvard, too. I mean, like, how hard could it be to get in, right?
Bowled over by her application, and with the contingent 4.0 GPA in her major (fashion merchandising) in question, Harvard gets more than it bargains for when she decides to forgo the required essay and do a very pink flash mob razzle-dazzle essay in song as she bursts into the Harvard admission offices, backed by her own squad of cheerleaders. “Pink is my signature color,” she perkily announces. And she is promptly accepted to the ivy halls after revealing she is motivated by love in the two-parter,"What You Want.”
At first, it looks like Harvard got much less than it bargained for. Elle’s initial preoccupation in winning Warner back hinders her from devoting time to study, but mostly she is distracted by his new fiancee, Vivienne (Milla Moretti, “42nd Street,” “A Winter’s Tale”), a smart, sassy overachiever-type law student. Elle is humiliated by her in class on her first day, and spurned by her other classmates as well. Her manicurist, Paulette (Ruby Lapeyre, “42nd Street,” “James and the Giant Peach”) becomes her only new friend who she runs to for solace, although Paulette's own problems seem much greater.
It seems Paulette's ex-husband Dewey (William Reimers) is, to put it lightly, something of an uncultured lout. Nonetheless, Ms. Lapeyre’s Paulette is hilarious, brash, happy and has a style all of her own as she commiserates with Elle over their lost loves. Elle even teaches Paulette how to get a man with “Bend and Snap,” a bend-at-the-waist-stick-out-your-fanny dance technique featuring a full stage of dancers, including the Greek Chorus, that should probably come with a disclaimer if you’re over 40, but had the audience rolling in their seats. One of the funnier moments is when Paulette falls for Kyle, the UPS guy (the hunky Spencer Williams) and she puts her new-found skill to good use.
There’s also the socially awkward Emmett (Ethan Dale, “The Little Mermaid,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”), the militant sapphist/activist law school student Enid (played by Lilianah Barton, who also doubles as one of the Delta Nu’s), frat-boy Grandmaster Chad (depicted by Daniel Tachiki, who also dual roles as the hilarious Nikos), the would-be king, if not for a coup d'état back home, and the inevitable smarmy Professor Callahan (played by jazz musician Sebastian Hochman, in an over-the-top character role).
Actually, from opening number to closing megamix, the commitment and energy from the entire cast was impressive, not least of which was Sara Finemel as Brooke, a beautifully aging Delta Nu sorority sister who is accused of murdering her wealthy husband. Ms. Finemel’s athleticism and simultaneous vocal ability is joyously baffling in her high energy, “Whipped Into Shape,” spotlighting a multi-cast of amazingly dexterous rope-jumpers, who exhibit exact timing while belting out their ballad, becoming a mouth-opening wonder of achievement.
So, with much tutoring help from Emmett, a licensed attorney and assistant to Professor Callahan, Elle will get down to business. She plans to nab a prestigious law internship with the prickly Callahan, redeem her reputation and impress Warner. (Mr. Hochman’s contribution to “Chip on my Shoulder” with the cast and ensemble was peerless.) Later, Emmett not only becomes her mentor/tutor, but he eventually falls for her, expressing his silken-voiced love in the signature song, “Legally Blonde.”
(Side Note: The usual men’s store scene in Act 2’s full version of “Legally Blonde” with the number, “Take It Like a Man” — usually a scream — where Emmett is refashioned with a new raging suit by Elle replacing his raveled schmattes and worn corduroys, is not in the Legally Blonde Jr. version.)
The court room trial segment, however, which featured strong vocals from Elle, Callahan, Emmett, Brooke, Vivienne, Warner, Enid, the Judge (Tess Hubbard), Nikos and Carlos was one of the most uproarious moments in the show and a real work of art. Hinging on Elle’s “gaydar abilities,” which requires outing a gay man in court in order to win a case, the scene was topped off with the controversial show centerpiece, “Gay or European,” producing rolling in the aisles laughter, especially when Carlos (Nick Sartory, “Newsies,” “Guys and Dolls”) has all he can take and blows the scam with his show-stopping outtro on the end. “No matter what he say - I sware he never ever swing the other way - You are so gay - You big parfait! - You flaming boy in cabaret!”
Mr. Wurman as the eye-catching Warner brings a terrific baritone quality to “Serious.” Other notable numbers were Ms. Lapeyre’s “Ireland,” “Positive,” “So Much Better,” and “Daughter of Delta Nu.”
The entire cast is top-tier, with more than half supporting the show as ensemble while doubling, sometimes tripling in an additional role, such as a prison inmate or student. The sorority sisters, who will literally do anything for Elle, all look like they are fresh out of central casting for cheerleaders, and are remarkably portrayed by Thea Lawson as man-hungry Margot, Gianna Pira as outspoken, spunky Serena and Eadan Franklynn as sensible and sassy Pilar. The girls also play the Greek Chorus, and are center stage on many of the production’s main numbers.
Zelda Saltzman is Kate and also depicts the DA Joyce Riley; Grace Holscher portrayed Vivienne’s friend and partner in mischief, Whitney as well as Kiki. William Reimers is Professor Winthrop, Aaron, and Dewey; Nick Sartory is also amazing as Sundeep Padamadan. Monty Oxman personified Professor Pforzheimer and Chutney; Toby Lehr played Professor Lowell and the Prison Guard. The Saleswoman is Molly Sasso; Ms. Finemel also played the Sales Manager. A TV Reporter is portrayed by Emily Blustajn; the Bailiff is Walden Sullivan. The Court Reporter and the Cat Woman is Claire Vandeman. The two cute dogs played themselves.
Daniel Koh is the talented Music Director, recently of “The Drowsy Chaperone;” Choreography is by Michael Marchak, who, if you recall, handled the incredible “She Loves Me” at MWT. William Wilday, a muti-talented tech wizard, managed all Lighting, Sets and Sound with a full like-mannered crew. Larry Gesling is the Stage Manager. Costumes are also by Anne Gesling with design inspiration from Kristie Mattsson. In addition, a plethora of other backstage crews, too numerous to mention, contributed much to this show’s production and warrants very high marks.
So, never mind that the content of “Legally Blonde Jr., The Musical” defies modern social consciousness and plays on a multitude of stereotypes: ditsy blondes, shallow sorority girls, trailer park blue collar, blood-thirsty lawyers, the LGBTQ community, and even UPS delivery men. Forget that the plot appears improbable to its core. Because where else can you experience more fun in the span of a short afternoon? It's pure, non-stop entertainment with instantly recognizable songs that are spellbinding, a script filled with humor, wit and sass, and a vivid array of bold colors onstage — leaving cast members and audiences alike seeing pink!
“Legally Blonde Jr., The Musical,” playing through December 14th, will no doubt be a force of nature throughout the young theatrical community for many more years to come, but you will not see it performed better than at Morgan-Wixson Theater in Santa Monica. For tickets and reservations, go to: https://www.morgan-wixson.org/legally-blonde
The Show Report