By Britin Haller
Omigod you guys, Legally Blonde the Musical is so much fun!
The original motion picture with Reese Witherspoon is cute with a laugh or three, but likely not for everyone. But the musical at the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre? It’s a rip-roaring absolutely hysterical (and touching) rom-com. Carbonell Award-winning Artistic Director David Arisco waved his wand and created magic once again.
Based on both the novel by Amanda Brown, and the MGM film Legally Blonde (2001), with playbook by Heather Hach, and music and lyrics by the wife and husband songwriting team of Nell Benjamin (Mean Girls) and Laurence O’Keefe (Heathers), the original New York production was a hit and nominated for seven Tony Awards. It’s easy to see why.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, Legally Blonde the Musical tells the story of Elle Woods, or Miss Woods Comma Ella as she is otherwise referred to, a ditzy-blonde pink-wearing Malibu sorority president (think Barbie) whose perfect boyfriend Warner (“They’re just like that couple from Titanic, only no one dies”) breaks up with her on the very night she thinks he is going to propose. Now on his way to Harvard to study law, he believes Elle won’t fit in with the image Warner has of his new life, or future wife. He now prefers to be with “less of a Marilyn and more of a Jackie.”
Not to be deterred, Elle, who has a 4.0 GPA in fashion, sets off to win Warner back by enrolling at Harvard herself, which should be easy she thinks. After all she has a letter of recommendation from family friend Oprah Winfrey. Really, how hard could it be? So, she gets in only to find out she’s too late because Warner is dating Vivienne now, an ultra-serious, very intelligent young woman who is, as Elle describes her, “someone who wears black when nobody’s dead.” Why, even “her hair and shoes are flat!” And if that’s not bad enough, Vivienne is a BRUNETTE! Horror of horrors!!
At first, Elle creates quite a spectacle in class, but with the help of her manicurist Paulette and Emmett, a teaching assistant at the university, Elle starts believing hey, I just may be good at this law stuff after all, and begins taking it, and herself, seriously. And when her law professor takes on a client, a famous exercise instructor on trial for murdering her wealthy older husband, Elle springs into high gear and ultimately saves the day.
Becca Andrews, as Elle Woods, can best be described as a Disney Princess. She looks like an angel and sings like an angel, and a quick chat with Becca after the show proved that’s no act, she really does come across as the girl next door. This isn’t Becca’s first rodeo, having performed her dream role of Elle in more than a handful of other productions, and she does it seemingly effortlessly and seamlessly. The curtain call standing ovation saved for Becca proved the audience agreed. Special mention to that long note she holds at the end of Act One.
How fortunate to have Stephen Christopher Anthony (who starred in the title role in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway) making his return to Actors Playhouse after first stepping on the Coral Gables stage at the age of 11. His performance of Elle’s new love interest Emmett Forrest is heartbreaking and raw, excelling during “Chip on My Shoulder.” Elle and Emmett’s opening of “Take It Like a Man” produced the biggest genuine smile of the night. Their palpable pathos in “Legally Blonde” is full of emotion.
Preppy snob Warner Huntington III, played by Alexander Zenoz, makes quite an entrance, and his “Serious” duet with Elle begins romantic, but ends sad, when it becomes obvious “here’s where our lives begin” has different meanings for the two of them in his quest to become a U.S. Senator. Zenoz has a lovely well-trained voice and fits the part well.
Michael Dean Morgan couldn’t be more perfect in the role of Professor Callahan, whose blatant ruthlessness is somehow funny, until it’s not. He nails it in “Blood in the Water,” hamming it up in a good way during the song’s clever finale.
Actress Jennifer Coolidge, who played Elle’s best friend Paulette in the film, has nothing on Heather Jane Rolff, whose Paulette, “I’m like Allstate, but for hair” is a crowd favorite. Rolff endears us to her from the onset with her character’s Bostonian accent and giant heart, and her rendition of “Ireland” will have you dreaming along.
Stephanie White, as fitness instructor Brooke Wyndham, physically stuns in “Whipped Into Shape” telling her devotees “You know you’re doing it right when you start to cry.” Getting a big laugh are dance captain Zach Eisenberg, David Nick Alea, and Taylor Hilt Mitchell who play Brooke’s fellow jailbirds. Omigod, ha ha. And what an appropriate time to mention costume designer Ellis Tillman, who is on the money, especially with Elle and her sorority sisters, Professor Callahan, the jailbirds, and Dewey, Paulette’s hippie ex-common-law husband. Wigs styled by AJ Cola and Corinne Holland, who are both also in the cast, add to the fun.
As the stuck-up Vivienne Kensington, Warner’s Jackie O-esque girlfriend, Hana Slevin is appropriately boring and cruel. Her comment to Elle, “Aren’t there girls going wild somewhere without you?” is heartless.
But it’s Diego Klock-Pérez, as intentional scene-stealer Kyle the UPS guy and his cardboard box, who chews the scenery in such a ridiculously over-exaggerated, fun way. Klock-Pérez was born to play Kyle, and it’s easy to see why Paulette gets tongue-tied around him. He also does a mean Irish jig.
David Nick Alea slays as Nikos, the pool boy. In a smaller, but still very notable role, is Hugo E. Moreno as Carlos. Really terrific work by all involved here.
The eight-piece pit orchestra under the capable direction of Nick Guerrero shines. Of special enjoyment is the keyboard arrangement in “Blood in the Water.” Scenic designer Brandon Newton created a sparse, but clever, set with a single rotating platform decorated appropriately for each scene, and the lighting, under the apt direction of Eric Nelson, is used to good effect, most obviously in “The Harvard Variations.”
Act One’s “What You Want” is a synchronized delicious mess, and tying for the Don’t Try This At Home award are Act Two’s dance numbers “Whipped Into Shape” (think jump ropes) and “Bend and Snap” (think let’s all throw our backs out with hot blue-collar workers) which up until that point is the best number of the night until “There! Right There!” which is a hysterical scene.
And a huge wow to Sarah Crane, the show’s associate director and choreographer, for coordinating such incredible moves. Crane also trained at the Miracle Theatre as a kid appearing alongside Stephen Christopher Anthony during the same Musical Miracles program. How lovely they’ve been brought back together.
As a former ensemble member in another lifetime, giving a shoutout to players who standout feels important to let them know they are seen. Besides those already mentioned, worthy of such accolades is Melanie Johnston, a dynamite dancer who commands the room. It’s a true joy to watch her having so much fun. Jessica Sanford and Taylor Hilt Mitchell do a lot with a small bit as Elle’s over-the-top country club boozer mom and golfer dad.
Any actor knows working with children and animals can be a mixed bag because there is always more than a good chance of being upstaged. Not surprisingly, taking the prize for most adorable (too bad their pictures are not in the playbill!) are canine duo Chihuahua Cha Cha and Bulldog Tony who star as Bruiser and Rufus, respectfully. From the second they appear, the audience is eating out of their hands, er…paws. Once looking for their furever homes, both pups were rescued by animal trainer William (Bill) Berloni, who was a Tony Honoree for Excellence in Theatre recipient in 2011 and has devoted his life to caring for, and showcasing, our furry friends. Rock on, Mr. Berloni.
Legally Blonde the Musical has an inevitable HEA (Happily Ever After) wrap-up proving there is plenty of room in the world (and at Harvard!) for both Jackies AND Marilyns. There’s no doubt you’ll be tickled pink by this terrific Actors’ Playhouse production, but be advised, good luck getting that “Omigod You Guys” song out of your head!
Britin Haller is the Senior Editor for Charade Media. Her latest novel is Dumpster Dying by Michelle Bennington, available where books are sold. Find Britin across social media and at Charadebooks.com
Legally Blonde the Musical plays through February 25 at the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10; 3 p.m. Sundays. Running time approximately 135 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets starting at $55. Call 305-444-9293, or visit actorsplayhouse.org.