Friday, March 1, 2013

Legally Blonde Is, Like, Entertaining To the Max!

By James E. Trainor III
Photos by Richie Akers

Lauren Galliart (l) as Elle Woods
Cedar Rapids - Omigod! Elle Woods (Lauren Galliart) has just been dumped by her boyfriend! Apparently the Malibu-bred president of Delta Nu is not "Serious" enough for the Harvard-bound Warner (Tim Arnold). He'd prefer someone a little more refined; someone named Muffy, or perhaps Vivienne (Amy Willett). But Elle's determined to keep it "Positive;" she's going to chase Warner to the east coast and prove that she has what it takes by enrolling in Harvard. All you need is love, right?

Well, not quite. It turns out law school is really hard work. And Elle, who shows up to class dressed entirely in pink and carrying her chihuahua, has to work extra hard to get people to take her seriously. But with the help of Emmett (Zach Parker), she gets a "Chip on Her Shoulder", buckles down, and shows what she can do while still being true to her roots.

It sounds like a cheesy premise, and it is, a bit. But Legally Blonde avoids many of the traps of musicals based on popular movies, with a tight book and energetic, infectious songs. The lyrics are simplistic but funny, and more importantly they keep the story moving right along. And Elle's story, silly as it is, is inspiring to anyone who's ever struggled to learn a new skill. TCR's production is fairly strong: it realizes the show well with some exciting choreography, a very flexible set, and some great acting from the lead.

Lovar Davis Kidd's brand of hip-hop choreography is perfect for a show like this. Whether the sisters of Delta Nu are "shaking junk" or the party animals on Spring Break are trying to tempt Elle away from her studies, the moves are exciting, energetic, and original. Particularly effective is "Whipped into Shape," the Act II opener, which is based around highly aerobic jump-roping. The dancers do a great job with some really challenging stuff. At one point, Brooke (Amanda Larson) has to freeze -- as the video is "paused" -- in a position that is both comical and quite strenuous to maintain.

The cast of Legally Blonde shakes its junk
Kidd has plenty of room to play with thanks to Scott Olinger's very flexible set design. The proscenium arch is lined with two skinny pink walls, each with a door and a number of windows, and these are employed throughout the larger numbers to give some levels. Everything else -- a sorority house, a salon, a classroom, even a toilet! -- is either rolled on or flown in. Kudos to TCR's stage crew: these transitions happen quickly and smoothly without long blackouts between scenes. This keeps the pace from dragging while the story visits many different locations. It also allows a lot of space on stage when necessary, for a big dance number or to isolate an actor or two when things get more serious. Olinger's elegant solving-problem skills are at their full force here, and Kidd and director Casey Prince make great use of the space that he opens up.

The show also had some great acting, particularly from Galliart. Her Elle is very sympathetic: peppy without being excessively so, enthusiastic, and very very sharp when it's called for. Her character choices make it easy to go on Elle's journey; when things are going well, she beams with confidence, and her half-cocked satisfied grin makes it really easy to like her. She's equally effective at playing the more nervous moments, becoming stiff and unsure when Elle's ambitions are constantly thwarted. She dances and sings with ease and enjoyment, and it's fun to go on her journey with her.

Tim Arnold as Warner, Lauren Galliart as Elle,
and Zach Parker as Emmet
Galliart's scene partners are good actors as well. Parker's Emmett is likeable and believable, and he and Galliart have some great chemistry. Jen Boettger is very effective as Paulette, particularly with the way she plays against the ensemble in "Bend and Snap." Arnold and Willett are arrogant without being despicable, and Vivienne's turnaround at the end is touching. Bree Castle plays a very bold and energetic Enid, and Mike Wilhelm's Callahan is cold and sleazy in an almost lascivious way.

Some of the ensemble acting is a little too broad, as if the actors are trying too hard to be funny. For the most part, though, the style fits Legally Blonde's tone, and there are some great comic moments. Jordan Hougham and Byrant Duffy stand out with some very funny acting, and Tevin Jones and Danny Mulka execute some amazing dancing. The group as a whole does some really excellent work, and it's this energy -- along with Prince's direction -- that makes Legally Blonde a fast, fun, and memorable show.

Legally Blonde runs through March 23 on TCR's mainstage. Tickets are available here.


germanatheart said...

Correction: Vivienne is played by Amy Willett.

CRTheatreGuy said...

Fixed; sorry about that!