This is the year of the blonde in pink! Dozens of schools, community theatres, and a dinner theatre in the DC Metro area have opted to try their hand at producing the popular Broadway musical Legally Blonde: the Musical. On Saturday night, I attended Reston Community Players’ production which boasts some wonderful performances.
Director Joshua Redford had a daunting task – to direct a large cast of 25 actors, 2 dogs (played by the adorable Francis Xerxes Farms (Rufus) and Angel Huntley (Bruiser), and 12 musicians in the orchestra pit. Lucky for Redford (and his assistant Rich Bird) they had Musical Director and Conductor David Rohde by their side. Rohde did a masterful job with his talented group of musicians, and made the mostly unmemorable score by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin sound absolutely wonderful. Mark Hidalgo’s choreography kept this actors/dancers swaying and hopping and moving around the stage for a large part of the performance, especially during the high-jumping “Whipped Into Shape.” Beaucoup energy and enthusiasm oozed from every pore of every cast member, and Joshua Redford’s fine direction kept things moving at a brisk pace.
I won’t spend 5 paragraphs – which I could – to describe the plot of the show and to introduce you to all the characters. Most of you know the 2001 movie it’s based on, but if you aren’t familiar with Legally Blonde you can read it all here. Instead, I prefer to give some well-deserved mention to the cast and address the set and lighting choices.
You have to have a charming and peppy actress and a fine singer to play the ‘ballsy’ and fearless Elle Woods and Joshua Redmond found her in Maureen Rohn. She put her heart and soul into her performance and her rendition of “Elle Reflects” at the end of the first act showed the power and beauty of her voice. Ryan Khatcheressian, who plays her endearing new beau, Emmett, is charming and his duet with Rohn – “Legally Blonde” is heartfelt and sweet and the harmonies were divine (and that’s not easy achieve to achieve with this awkward score which throws in weird chords in the middle of its songs as we see also in Emmett’s song “Chip on Your Shoulder”).
Mimi Preda is perfectly bitchy as Vivienne Kensington – Elle’s ex Warner’s (played by the suave Nicholas Von Bank) new girlfriend who first treats Elle like dirt and then – you guessed it! – becomes her fan! Courtney Trollinger is assertive as the jump-roping defendant accused of murdering her billionaire husband (Or was it the ‘queen’?), and Jeff Breslow brings the right amount of sleaze and arrogance to his portrayal of Professor Callahan.
But this night belonged to spitfire and firecracker of an actress and singer who came out on the stage, wrapped her arms around me and the audience and never let go! Molly Hicks Larson stole the show as the loving, quirky, beautician with a heart of gold – Paulette Bonafonté. Molly’s hysterical rendition of “Ireland” gave the production the burst of life it needed, and after that – I kept waiting for Hicks’ Paullete to return to the stage again. When she finally returned for “Bend and Snap,” she stole the show again! And Joseph Aquilina, as her newfound stud and beau Kyle was equally hysterical and their chemistry on the stage brought well-deserved roars from the audience.
And now let me get this out of the way quickly. It was obvious that a lot of work and love went into building the set design by James Villarubia and his set construction crew, but here the set was simply too big, too intrusive, and some of the lighting choices threatened to divert attention away from the scenes and performances. For example (and I still can’t believe that this happened), as Molly was wowing the audience with “Ireland” – a set piece was being wheeled off in full view of the audience as Ms. Larson was attempting to finish her song (which was the highlight of the evening for me). Why?
Why wasn’t that wheeling of the set (one of many that came before and would come later in the show) done in total darkness? Or – why was it done at all? This wheeling in and off of the set pieces during the production halted all the momentum the previous scene and/or song built. Sometimes simple is better and here with the stage already filled to the brim with a cast of dozens – the set pieces felt like they were taking over the show or were in the way. So Mr. Director, set crew and lighting crew – it’s not too late to work together to get this one right!
Now let me finish on a positive note: Congrats to the hard-working cast and especially the ensemble which put in many miles during this production. And kudos to the Costume Design Team lead by Jennifer Lambert (who also produced the show), Sam Nystrom, Anne Marie Pinto and the members of the Costume Crew. Your work added color (and not just pink) and joy and helped to define these colorful characters.
There’s a lot of heart and fun in Reston Community Players’ Legally Blonde: the Musical. Brunettes and Redheads and bald men will love it too! And Omigod you guys – you’ll get to see and hear a belting beautician played by the scene-stealing Molly Hicks Larson!
Legally Blonde: the Musical plays through November 3, 2012 at Reston Community Players at Centerstage Theater at Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Road, in Reston, VA. For tickets, purchase them online, or call the box office at (703) 476-4500.
Here are directions.