Opera House’s ‘Legally Blonde’ entertains with finesse
Legally Blonde: The Musical
6/15-17, 22-24 • $23-$25
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.
Mixing trust and integrity with law seems futile—unless you’re Elle Woods. The bubbly, Malibu blonde has a penchant for fashion marketing but a passion to prove she can be the best of the best among Harvard law students in Opera House Theatre Company’s season-opener, “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” With music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, and book by Heather Hach, the show is based on the Reese Witherspoon film from 2001.
Having inspired a cinematic sequel which had fashionistas and smart women worldwide snapping in praise, “Legally Blonde” endures stereotypes by massacring them without losing a bit of sparkle, shine and glitter along the way. To put it simply: It is a girly-girl’s show, which centers on a love story and embraces life by its undercurrent of empowerment, all the while wearing pink, bedazzled couture along the way. Add to it a host of quippy one-liners, and laugh-out-loud reactions ensue. The 2011 Laurence Olivier-winning show is silly, pure and simple, but not without entertainment and a fine message at its core.
Just off numerous Broadway-touring shows, such as “Hairspray,” “Grease” and “The Wedding Singer,” Wilmingtonian Erin Sullivan brings the perky, positive-thinking Elle Woods to life full-force. She has cascading blonde locks, a million-dollar smile, an adorable attitude, animated moves and quite the svelte body to turn heads. Sullivan pulls off the balancing act of ditzy-turned-smarty-pants with an unassuming mien.
A devoted Delta Nu from UCLA, that Elle prefers pool parties over stodgy law homework doesn’t make her any less intelligent. Sullivan shines in the role especially during the Playboy Bunny costume scene and a spectacular Gloria Steinem reference which puts the audience by her side devotedly thereafter. She’s the underdog for whom everyone roots.
Her break-out song-and-dance number, “What You Want (Part 2),” contains energy I haven’t seen onstage over the past three months. If the audience would have jumped in the aisles to join a drum-major-clad Sullivan (best costume of the night!) during the personal essay/Harvard admissions scene, I would have been no less shocked. The energy here is magnetic, and her entourage of singers and dancers simply stun. Easily, it’s the best scene of the play. My only complaint comes from a few pitchy, nasally notes Sullivan carries throughout the show, along with some wonky facial expressions not fitting of my vision of Elle—minor but still relevant.
Cindy Colucci always brings it in every move in every performance she endures. Folks can guarantee quality acting and a magnificent voice from such boisterous talent. Her take on the northern hairdresser Paulette comes with a spot-on New England accent and a palpable desperation for love. She also carries humor with a dry twist and tell-it-like-it-is air.
In “Bend and Snap,” she’s most adorable in her coy flirtation with the UPS guy (one smokin’ hot Tré
Cotton Cotten, who certainly keeps the ladies pining over him with his forceful, manly poses). Her chemistry with Sullivan gels without effort, a heartfelt bond which shows no matter age, affluence or lifestyle, Elle Woods is just likable with whomever she meets.
Such is the case when in court she represents Brooke Wyndham, fellow Delta Nu and workout guru whose fame has been made from world-renowned videos. Heather Setzler gives Wyndham the intensity of Jillian Michaels, and will mesmerize audiences with her adept ability to jump rope and sing simultaneously. In fact, “Whipped Into Shape” is astounding in choreography and execution. With so many people onstage, snapping jumpropes in sync and singing without breathy verbosity, it’s truly a scene to behold. Setzler is a champ.
Kelsey Walston as Vivienne Kensington, Elle’s nemesis and serious competition in winning the heart of Warner (a handsome, at-ease Max Korn who continues impressing Wilmington’s theatre scene), has “uptight” in the bag. She reins in stern looks and pomposity perfectly. The foil to Elle’s scheme, even Vivienne manages to be broken by the perky blonde’s goodness and candor.
While women most definitely rule the roost in the show, the men have their moments, too. Specifically, Jeff Phillips’ Professor Callahan makes it a joy to learn about the seedy side of lawyer-ing. His song “Blood in Water” sounds delicious to the ears—so aptly referential to sexy jazz and blues thanks to a stunning band led by Lorene Walsh. Phillips plays Callahan without scruples, and he’s more believable than ever, commanding the stage with a bombast that shatters a law student’s hopes and dreams in the blink of an eye.
Christopher Rickert’s Emmett Forrest comes off with lots of humility. He’s endearing, appealing and exactly the kind of person who can steer our leading lady to her call of helping others without losing herself. Rickert is adorable, but one of my qualms comes in his chemistry with Sullivan. Visibly, they’re adorable together, but something about their interactions doesn’t exactly scream “romantic.” (Spoiler alert!) For those who know the story, Elle and Emmett end up together; if it weren’t for “Legally Blonde’s” cinematic or literary (yes, it was a book first) frame of reference, it wouldn’t be believable otherwise. Also, in some of Rickert’s songs, his range sounds off, but nothing a bit of fine-tuning won’t correct.
Perhaps the best moments of the show come from Opera House director Ray Kennedy’s use of stage and blocking. There is seamless set construction and design, with fluid scene changes which never intrude or distract from dialogue, plot progression and audience interest. Scenic Asylum has outdone themselves again. The use of the box seats in Thalian to showcase Elle’s LSAT scores, and the movement of the Greek chorus to delineate season changes (Kendra Goehring-Garrett makes a fiesty pilgrim) adds to the overall success.
The pacing is well-received, too. Upon exiting Thalian at 10:30 p.m. last Thursday, it didn’t feel as if I’d endured a marathon performance. Nor did it seem that way to my theatre companion, a 9-year-old who exclaimed, “That was waaaayyy better than the movie! That chorus will be stuck in my head for days: ‘Oh my god, oh my god, you guys!’”