REVIEW: OMIGOD! SLT’s ‘Legally Blonde’ is Exhilarating, Pinkalicious and Fun!

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Anna Lee Altman is Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” Photo by Thomas Koenig.

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Pink is irrefutably the new black in Spartanburg!

At least for the next two glorious blush and bashful weekends as Spartanburg Little Theatre’s 72nd season kicks up its pinkalicious Jimmy Choo pumps with the exhilarating, inspirational journey of  Malibu’s Elle Woods.

And be forewarned! “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” under the direction of longtime SLT collaborator John Fagan is like, really, irresistible! You’re in for a playfully-executed display at supersonic speed of contagious sugar-pop tunes suited for the likes of Britney, Christina and Taylor; a Greek Chorus, a takeaway signature song (“Bend and Snap”), a women’s prison scene, a splendid Powerpuff Girls color-palette, spiffy designer costumes, and a squishy-wishy, feel-good story of Homeric proportions.

This musical, based on the 2001 hit film with Reese Witherspoon and novel by Amanda Brown, features adventurous and relevant music with a soft edge – even a Reggae rap – by Laurence O’Keefe (“Heathers: The Musical”/“Bat Boy: The Musical”) and Nell Benjamin, and a succinct book by Heather Hach.

Our heroine Elle is played with fierce clarity and confidence by Anna Lee Altman, who rises, or rather floats and dances, to the task of filling those coveted Gucci stilettos. Best remembered at SLT as Janet in “The Rocky Horror Show,” Altman appears in practically every single scene here, and astutely captures Elle’s generous essence with expertly calibrated layers of glee and vitality.

She allows us to peer in Elle’s world through pink rose-colored glasses  and makes it look so effortless. And we root for her when she is dumped by her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (a magnanimous Caleb Suggs), her blue blood boyfriend who has political aspirations and wants to marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn, i.e. a nouveau-rich Valley Girl.

With the help of her Delta Nu sorority sisters (the collective divineness of SLT regulars Leslie Hendon, Tiffany Wright and Caroline Foster), she gets into Harvard Law School determined to win back her man.

Enter the dashing Adam Sanders, the Spartanburg Youth Theatre-trained actor who is now director of his drama mater, and returns on stage with assured aplomb as the young lawyer and love interest, Emmett. And Sanders is at his most delightful in “Take It Like a Man,” the stage equivalent to the obligatory department store fashion and music montage. I mean how often we get to see a man get a makeover?

Miranda Gilbert is equally vexing as Elle’s old-money rival Vivienne, and ends one number on  heavenly high note. It’s too bad this character doesn’t have a fleshy solo because Gilbert is an exceptional soprano.

Professor Callahan is played by veteran Upstate actor Bruce Meahl at his most erudite. And he only stepped into this role with just over a week of rehearsal.

And as Elle’s unlikely best pal Paulette, Lori Guthrie, the SLT star last seen in “Ring of Fire,” delivers the show’s most impactful solo “Ireland.” It’s not the best song in the bunch, but Guthrie’s rendition was flawless in this humoresque paean to all things Irish and leaves no leprechaun or Celtic trope or folk dance unscathed.

Then, there’s the highly-objectified receiver of Paulette’s desire, Kyle the sexy UPS man, played by Charlie Hyatt who works the package delivery runway with copious amounts of attitude. And it paid off on opening night as multiple cheering sections in the Chapman theatre erupted during his entrance and departure.

And the amazing April Schaeffer not only choreographed the mile-a-minute moves throughout the story arc, she comes out of the dance studio and onto centerstage nailing the part of fitness empress and Delta Nu sister Brooke Wyndham, who is on trial for murder. Expect to burn at least 200 calories by just watching the explosive energy in her jump rope workout routine.

 

This production also features outstanding and hilarious characterizations by  Executive Artistic Director Jay Coffman, who celebrates his 10th  year at SLT and first musical performance in 10 years with “Legally Blonde,” and Kelli Wolfe as Elle’s parents, a numerous other parts.

Gem Taylor is wondrously shrewd and on-point as the villainess daughter with a bad perm. And Ray Jones and Parker Byun will win you over in the cutest dance sequence in the show. No spoilers here though.

But the breakout star in this show is longtime SLT performer Matthew Ballard, who, while performing on opening night, also won a Joanne Woodward Award at Greenville Little Theatre for Best Supporting Actor for his work in “Footloose” last season.  Ballard demonstrates his range like never before here in three fully-realized characters including a nelly manicurist, Paulette’s grubby redneck common-law husband, and he absolutely sells a rap solo.

The fantastic ensemble members all play multiple roles: Georgie Harrington, Ashleigh Shook, Heather Campbell , Mary Scarborough, Damion Deslaurier, Kareem Johnson, Erin O’Neil, Jemeshia Webber-Thompson, Jessica Clary, and Matthew Quattlebaum.

Also, last but certainly not least are two of the best canine actors this year: Baby the Chihuahua as Bruiser and Sampson as Paulette’s recovered pooch Rufus.

And five pink patent stars for Clint Walker’s sugary and stylized array of dual-purpose sets and fly-ins that propel Elle to some 45 locations including Greek Row, Harvard, the courtroom, the powder room, and an impressive hair salon replete  with vintage hairdryer stations.

LeRoy Kennedy’s exquisite music direction shows in the tight vocal work. Kennedy also conducts the rock orchestra in this brass-heavy score: Candace Henry on violin; Chris Earl on drums; David Thompson, Tori Wells, and Alex Abercrombie on keyboards; Tim Bivins and Jamie Kirby on trumpet; Mike Miller on trombone; Shawn Allen on guitar and Josh Tennant on bass.

Will Luther’s racks and racks of costumes are fresh, fitted, and as always, classy. And though it was probably the simplest part if his costuming duties, the festive band and cheer uniforms did provide a knock-out visual feast in “What You Want,” which is the grooviest composition in the show.

Designer Peter Lamson chose pleasing pastel lighting in pinkish and calm hues, and even a splash of rainbow during the Jones/Byun duet. And Matthew Polowczuk is working his sound magic at the audio board again and Greenville choreographer Michael Cherry also consulted on this production.

The “Legally Blonde” Stage Manager is Cassandra Scott and Assistant Stage Manager is Katherine Rausch. Elizabeth Gray is seamstress, and Beth Hedden and Leah Hedden are prop mistresses. Caleb Patterson is in the light booth, Jeanna Burch on spots, and Jessie Cantrell, John Carino, Kitty Cash, Sarah Hurley, Keith Shambaugh and Ashley Zimmerman are on crew..

“Legally Blonde: The Musical” continues through Sept. 24 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m. matinees on Sundays and Saturday, Sept. 16 at the Chapman Cultural Center, 200 E. St, John St. in Spartanburg. Call (864) 542-2787 or visit
www.chapmanculturalcenter.org

After you see “Legally Blonde,” Carolina Curtain Call also recommends these Girl Power Musicals: “Pinkalicious: The Musical” by the South Carolina Children’s Theatre Sept. 16-24 at the Gunter Theatre in Greenville, and “Heathers: The Musical” Oct. 11-13 at Converse College.

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