Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Theater review: Legally Blonde the Musical at KD Studio Theatre in Dallas
It will have you dancing in your seat.
Level Ground Arts presents Legally Blonde the Musical (playing at KD Studio Theatre in Dallas through June 23), the charming movie turned musical with a talented and passionate group of performers. When college sorority queen Elle Woods is dumped by her boyfriend Warner, she decides to follow him to Harvard Law to win him back! The musical is an uplifting story of friendship, love, and one determined girl's journey to discover her potential.
Directed by Bill Fountain, this show is filled with surprise PG-13 laughs, funny lines and physical adlibs. Don't expect a stuffy audience at this theatre. LGA gathers a rowdy Saturday crowd that loudly shows their appreciation by whistling and cheering. Indeed, the energetic atmosphere of the musical is contagious! Right away, the opening song "Omigod You Guys" grabs you with its high energy floor-covering choreography of twelve sorority sisters celebrating the engagement of Warner Huntington III to their Delta Nu President Elle who is fretting over what to wear for the occasion.
The part of Elle is performed by Kim Borge, who sings with a lovely voice. Borge maintains the cute and ditzy image while still connecting with Elle's admirable sincerity. Although exceedingly popular and beautiful, Elle somehow remains naive. She sees the good in everyone and that's what makes her America's blonde sweetheart. Borge makes us laugh with her valley girl lines spoken with masterful timing. She also uses plenty of body language and facial expressions that entertain. Keith J. Warren plays Elle's insensitive preppy boyfriend, Warner. Warren plays the part well. He has a nice voice and he uses his comedic timing to add light humor to the break up song "Serious". Devastated, Elle decides she will become the serious girl that Warner is looking for - "someone who wears black when nobody's dead!" Natalie Coca is adorable as studious sorority sister Kate who helps Elle study for the LSAT. The hard work finally pays off and when Elle runs into Warner at Harvard, she unconvincingly feigns "Oh, Warner! I totally forgot you go here!"
Ragan Pharris plays Warner's new girlfriend that you love to hate, Vivienne Kensington. She's perfectly malevolent and catty through most of the show but also shows vocal strength during her change of heart solo. While at Harvard, we meet Professor Callahan, Emmett and Enid. Experienced actor Lon D. Barrera portrays the hard to please Professor Callahan. He leads a villainous rendition of "Blood in the Water." Sam Swenson is Emmett, Elle's nerdy but lovable friend. He is the person who believes in Elle the most and is a constant encouragement in this story.
Swenson plays the sweet guy who patiently waits for Elle to come around. It is hilarious when he presents her with the time-saving Christmas gift of - GASP! - shampoo and conditioner in one! Borge's facial expression is priceless as she tries to disguise her horror. Samantha Parrish is Enid, the ultra-feminist lesbian who always makes the audience laugh with her exaggerated rants.
In times when Elle needs a little encouragement an imaginary Greek Chorus appears, led by sorority sisters Serena, Margot and Pilar represented by Grace Neeley, Danielle Holoway and Traci Lee respectively. The lighting design by Bryan S. Douglas stands out in these scenes as the dramatic heavenly lights shine down on the Chorus. The girls make us laugh as their misguided advice often turns into a cheer routine or ends in a risqué booty-shaking dance.
My favorite character, Paulette, is originally played by Jennifer Coolidge in the movie. She is the fairy godmother of sorts, always there to offer encouragement and advice. She is the friend everyone wishes they had. LGA's casting of Sara Shelby-Martin as Paulette is superb! She is just as quirky as I'd hoped and she has a wonderful mature voice. Designer Marcus Lopez dresses Paulette in a country-glam styled outfit. She wears a floral blouse, denim vest and skirt set and western boots.
She makes me really laugh when she sings about her ex: "He dumped me for some slut named Kayla!" She hits every punchline and her belting is impressive. Jason O'Neill plays both her jerky ex-boyfriend and the hot UPS man Kyle who leaves her speechless. The infamous "Bend and Snap" number is energetic and sexy with hip-hop inspired dancing. I'm especially impressed with the stand-out dance executions from ensemble members Stephen Raikes and Thomas Christopher Renner.
This musical features two furry cast members playing Bruiser and Rufus. I am a bit like Sharon Osbourne when it comes to animals. Call me the weird dog lady but I can't help it, when I see a dog my heart melts and I'm automatically in love! The dog scenes are kept to a minimum so as not to overwhelm the pups but while onstage, wagging tails indicate a couple of happy hounds. Paulette's dog Rufus is played by an adorable senior Golden Retriever, Bogey.
I am thrilled that LGA has also chosen to use their publicity to help a homeless animal. A rescued Chihuahua named Winslow happily plays Elle's beloved sidekick Bruiser. Winslow is looking for a permanent home and is available for adoption after the run of the show! I have a feeling he will have no problem at all after this hit musical.
The set design by Bill Fountain and Emily Shaw is simple and functional and totally pink! The production band led by Conductor Vonda K. Bowling is right on cue. Costume Designer Marcus Lopez does a wonderful job dressing fashion-forward Elle in half a dozen adorable outfits. She sports pink heels, pink argyle sweater and a serious black and white hounds-tooth sweater-vest ensemble. Her infamous sparkly pink trial dress is gorgeous. The choreography in this show is absolutely stellar!
Choreographer Kellie McCain and Assistant Darius-Anthony Robinson stage a large cast in a limited space and make it look easy. The dances are diverse and exciting, molding jazz, hip-hop and cheerleading styles together. Director Bill Fountain stage the entertaining sorority girls as they dance and rap and "shake their junk" in a hilarious performance of "Positive."
Perhaps one of the most engaging dances is the "Whipped into Shape" jump rope number featuring Taylor McKie as Brooke Wyndham. McKie plays a woman toughened by county jail but Elle appeals to the former Delta Nu and we discover a cute funny side. When Borge belts "So Much Better Than Before" she fills the room with her voice. She and Swenson sing a sweet "Legally Blonde" duet.
There are so many talented people in this show! Other memorable moments include Magdiel Carmona and Thomas Christopher Renner as the possibly-gay-possibly-European Nikos and his "friend" Carlos in the trial number "There! Right There!" Ke Ke Brooks is the sassy judge who looks and acts the part of an entertaining daytime courtroom television justice and Stephen Raikes cracks me up as Kiki the Stylist. The entire ensemble exhibits camaraderie as they sing and dance as a whole.
LGA's Legally Blonde the Musical is a hit! The team will have you dancing in your seat with this cheerful, totally mood-elevating production!
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