REVIEW: Market Theatre Thrives with Blonde Ambition in Elle Woods Musical

The ladies of “Legally Blonde” at The Market Theatre Company. Photo by Escobar Photography

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

There is no irony lost in Bailey Tyler’s portrayal of the blonde valley girl-turned-Harvard law student Elle Woods in The Market Theatre Company’s “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”

Anderson folks may recall that another local, Bailey Noel Hanks, won MTV’s competition “Legally Blonde: The Musical – The Search for Elle Woods” in 2008 and went on to national fame replacing Laura Bell Bundy in the role on Broadway.

This reviewer didn’t see Ms. Hanks as Elle Woods, but Miss Tyler is a force of nature in the Market’s momentous mounting.  The charismatic Tyler gives Elle infectious charm, a focused characterization, and loads of wit. And she is pretty in pink too.

“Legally Blonde” is the finest show I have seen to date at this young theatre (now in its second season), which has grown exponentially both as a company and as thriving community of artists.

The budget is bigger, the vocal work is fierce (particularly the vivacious ladies who serve as Delta Nu sisters and the Greek Chorus) under Music Director LeRoy Kennedy. And the staging is tight, nuanced, creative and thoroughly entertaining with Director Terrie West Poore leading the charge.

Faithfully based on the Reece Witherspoon film (and the book by Amanda Brown), “Legally Blonde,” follows the perky-in-pink underdog Elle, a nouveau riche UCLA undergrad from Malibu, and her dog Bruiser (one of two dogs in this show) to Harvard where she is determined to win back her man Warner Huntington III (played by Market regular Craig Smith), after he breaks up with her citing his political aspirations and her superficial demeanor as more Marilyn Monroe than Jackie Kennedy.

Elle defies the odds and gets to Harvard only to discover Warner is now engaged to his high school sweetheart from a well-connected family, Vivienne, embodied with class and stern dexterity by Meghan Cole, who last sizzled on stage as Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Buoyed by a handsome lawyer Emmett (Josh VanderVeen) and a new bff in beautician Paulette (Maggie McNeil), who has man and dog troubles of her own, Elle saves the day in a sensational murder trial defending Brooke Windham (played by the ebullient Lauren Veselak), a Delta Nu with a fitness empire.

This riches-to-respect odyssey is fertile fodder for a musical adaption, and the result is just as light and frothy as the source material with fun pop and dance ditties. One number “What You Want” is so catchy (at least the chorus is) that I can easily see someone like Meghan Trainor having a Top Ten hit with this material.

Some of the highlights are Miss Tyler and Smith soaring in the break-up ballad “Serious”; the fashion makeover in “Take It Like a Man” and the hip-hop beat of “Bend And Snap” that blends R&B vocals with the cheerleading sensibility of Toni Basil’s “Mickey.”  Personally, I thought that was the dumbest scene in the movie, but this sexy move that is guaranteed to catch the attention of any straight man is actually a clever plot device that comes into play later in the courtroom scene. And it gives McNeil an opportunity to flaunt her stunning vocal pipes.

This show is female-centric all the way with few redeeming male characters, and the ladies all pounce in their peppy roles in songs like “Positive” and the dynamic “Whipped Into Shape” with Veselak leading the gals (Carlie Taylor, Macie Belk, Lena Bledsoe, Maggie Crittendon, Amy Wert and Kyra Morgan) in the cute jump rope choreography (also by Ms. Poore).

However, there are a couple of men that deserve recognition: Kyle, the muscular UPS man with a “package” for Paulette is delivered with gusto by ex-football player Matty Newman. And look for him a little later as another character in the most hilarious bit in the show in the courtroom scene “Gay or European.” This is also the scene with the sexy Greek pool boy Nikos (called Enrique Salvatore in the film) played by Blake Bishop, who gives a delicious and suave spin on this ambiguous smarmy character, saying as much with a parting non-glance as he does with his brief dialogue.

The roles are well-cast and mostly filled by current or former Anderson University students. Rounding out the cast is Charles Poore as the dubious law Professor Callahan, Jessica Wayland, Jonah Simmons, Ashley Bingham, Shannon Moorhead, Jeff Bennett, Cody Durham and Jaycee Poole. Oh, and the canines Sophie and Bellatrix.

Co-founder Dalton Cole returns as scenic designer for this production and opted for a neutral black wall with white shelving and nooks that functions as a decorative props space. The color scheme seems a bit too safe for a “pink” musical, but he probably had few options given the many locales in this play.

The thrust of color is left to Janet Poole whose costumes are smart, fitted and … many, with everything from Elle’s pink designer labels to cheerleading skirts and prison jumpsuits.

Jenna Thiel is stage manager for this production and Katherine Bates is propmaster. Serving on the crew are scenic painter Ann Turner, Madi Marcie, Maggie Argo and Rebekah Taylor, with poster design by Caryn Scheving.

“Legally Blonde: The Musical” continues one more weekend only and shows are selling out so get your tickets now! Shows are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at The Market Theatre Company, 110 Federal St. in Anderson.

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