Theatre Review: LEGALLY BLONDE: The Musical at Walnut Street Theatre

The Walnut Street Theatre concludes it’s 210th season with Legally Blonde: The Musical, based on the popular movie starring Reese Witherspoon.  Last night’s opening was chock full of theatre lovers, fans, and subscribers of The Walnut Street Theatre.

Local talent, Kathryn Brunner stars as Elle Woods, the Malibu-bred sorority girl who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard. Under the direction of Richard Stafford, Brunner took a new path for Woods.  Traditionally played dim-witted and unsuspecting, Brunner’s interpretation represented the females of 2019 very well.  Beyond her good looks and charm, she was stoic, intelligent, and fierce.  It’s very easy to cater to the original film as well as the public to play shtick, but Brunner nor her cohorts catered to that notion. Although written prior to the #metoo movement (Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, Book by Heather Hach), the gravity of the today’s climate is front and center.  Where originally there were laughs, now heard sympathetic “ohhs” and “mmms”.

Considering the musical opens with a sorority, it’s clear there are a bevy of female characters.  Three of her Delta Nu pals act as a Greek chorus throughout, Margot (Adena Ershow), Serena (Caroline Chisholm), and Pilar (Lina Lee). Kurt Alger’s clever costume design introduced the three in bright bold costumes, one being a blue and gold cheerleader outfit, but when turned to Greek chorus, they adorned identical costumes but in light blues, grays, and whites. Jenna Pinchbeck’s interpretation of Harvard scholar Enid was sharp and unassuming and her one-liners scored every time. Lindsey Bliven stoically plays Vivienne Kensington, the new fiancé of Elle’s ex-boyfriend Warner Huntington III, played alarmingly well by Sean Thompson. He is a living Ken doll but much less plastic! Jennifer Coolidge was the scene stealer as Paulette in the film.  For me, her shoes are much bigger to fill than Reese Witherspoon or Laura Bell Bundy’s Elle portrayals.  Instead of going over the top, Rebecca Robbins’ Paulette was sweet, charming, and understated although dressed opposingly. Sara Brophy slayed the show-stopping number “Whipped into Shape” as ab-tastic Brooke Wyndham while jumping rope and storytelling at the same time!

The big standout was Elliott Styles who plays Emmett Forrest.  He was the perfect blend of Luke Wilson from the film and Christian Borle from the Original Broadway Cast but threw in his own splash of charisma.  I am a sucker for a leading man and he delivered all the right notes.  Although unfortunately, some of his higher/louder melodies were not always heard due to some opening night balance issues with mics during full cast numbers. He was a perfect match to Brunner. However the scene-stealers belong to the beautiful puppy stars, Frankie (Bruiser Woods) and Myrtle (Rufus).

Richard Stafford pulled double duty and acted as choreographer.  Each number has its own musical theatre prowess and allowed the ensemble to really exercise their skills. However, it was missing an overall electricity that I was anticipating.  Although the production had me leaving with a smile on my face specifically due to its star Brunner, I wasn’t electrified. Particularly during “What You Want” which sported a few cast members as members of a marching band, yet none of them played the instruments they were wearing.

The Walnut delivers with its crisp scenery (Peter Barbieri) and colorful lighting plot (Jack Mehler). I do question the wig choices as noticeable wigs immediately take me out of the story and become a distraction. It appears that the choice is that if one person wears a wig, then everyone must wear one.

Legally Blonde: The Musical is a perfect season ender and summer kick-off party.  It’s got a sweet blend of fluff and integrity all while standing up for women’s rights. Playing at Walnut Street Theatre through July 14th!

 

Cross-posted with permission from BroadwayWorld.com.

Photo by Mark Garvin

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