Paramount Theatre presents Legally Blonde
With book by Heather Hach and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, Legally Blonde the Musical follows Elle Woods (Casey Shuler, with stellar vocals) as she navigates the aftermath of the devastating breakup with her college boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Tyler Lain). With the help of her Sorority Sisters – Margot (Sara Reincke), Serena (Lucy Godinez, with spot-on comedic timing), and Pilar (Kyrie Courter), Elle decides to take the LSAT and follow Warner to Harvard Law School, with her small dog Bruiser Woods (Frankie). Over the course of the story, a simple plan to win back her man slowly transforms into a journey that proves to herself and those around her that Elle is far more than a pretty face and “believing in yourself never goes out of style.”
Those who love the 2001 hit film Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, will certainly recognize the iconic moments, like the introduction of the “Bend and Snap” to help Paulette (Sophie Grimm) win over the new UPS guy, Kyle B. O’Boyle (James Doherty, who brought the audience cheers to an all-time high with his charm). The show originally took the Broadway stage in 2007, and the adaptation successfully carries the original essence of the movie into the heightened sensation of the musical – complete with a catchy score. This writer feels that even those who are unfamiliar with the movie are sure to find a connection to the story and enjoy the experience.
Helmed by Director and Co-Choreographer Trent Stork, the artistic team adds a creative spin that modernizes the musical’s presentation into today. Scenic Designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set focuses heavily on four white columns that move about the stage and reflect the bright color pallet in Lighting Designer Nick Belley’s designs. For example, at the conclusion of Ireland – which resulted in a roar of applause in response to Grimm’s powerhouse belt, Belly utilized red, green, and white lighting to transform the columns into the Irish Flag. The effect is stunning, and provide the number with a conclusion to remember. These effects alone are impressive, but Kmiec and Belley’s collaboration with Projections Designer Mike Tutaj adds a whole new level to the spectacle, making the 2007 musical ready for 2018.
Bringing the Musical into Today
When Legally Blonde the Musical originally premiered, we were still in the world of flip phones, which certainly found its way into the culture of a musical about a college sorority president. During the song “So Much Better,” when Elle realizes her hard work has paid off and she sees her name on the list of four students to earn Professor Callahan’s (James Rank) internship, she takes a selfie to send to her parents. The original production featured the use of a pink razor phone, but today, Elle would more than likely have a smartphone, and the Paramount creative team takes that to the extreme with Kmiec’s use of a large iPhone that descends into the space from above. In this particular number, Elle facetimes her parents, and Tutaj projects the video onto the large iPhone screen. The effect is a blast, and cheers and laughter erupted throughout the Opening Night audience.
The design team makes consistent use of this creative feature throughout the production, most notably in “Chip on Your Shoulder,” when Emmett Forrest (Gerald Caesar) convinces Elle to step up and embrace power over her future in law school. Caesar performs the number with an excellent sense of stage presence and comedic timing, as well as a beautiful vocal quality, and the technical elements surrounding him help push the scene over the top. The song spans over months of time, and whenever a new holiday comes about, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, the phone descends and showcases an image of Bruiser in the appropriate holiday ensemble with the backdrop of the Starbucks App, featuring the drink of the season. Kmiec and Tutaj’s collaboration is extraordinary in these moments, heightening the comedy and overall aesthetic.
Stand Out Numbers
The overall modernizing of the adaptation does not stop at the tech, but expands to the numbers themselves. “What You Want” features Elle’s journey to Harvard – all in the pursuit of true love, and ends with a trip to the university to provide an in-person personal essay. The original production featured Elle Woods and her sorority in “marching band”-esque ensembles, wowing the admissions committee (and audience) with perfectly in-sync choreography.
Paramount takes a slightly different approach, but certainly no less exciting. Sound Designer Adam Rosenthal and Electronic Music Designer Ethan Deppe collaborate to update parts of the song with auto-tuning, infusing new beats and rhythms that allow Co-Choreographers Megan E. Farley and Trent Stork to fill the piece with a variety of choreography and movement that ranges across genres – from hip hop to gymnastics. The piece is full of energy and talent, and adds a fun flare of originality.
Striking Design and stand-out vocalists make Legally Blonde the Musical a night of fun from start to finish. Whether you are a die-hard fan of the original film or experiencing Elle’s journey for the first time, this writer feels that this is a story with a little something for anyone.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes, with intermission.
Casey Shuler… Elle Woods
Gerald Caesar… Emmett Forrest
Jacquelyne Jones… Vivienne Kensington
James Rank… Professor Callahan
Sophie Grimm… Paulette
Teressa LaGamba… Enid Hoopes
Tyler Lain… Warner Huntington III
Kyrie Courter… Pilar
Lucy Godinez… Serena
Sara Reinecke… Margot
Jenna Coker-Jones… Brooke Wyndam
James Doherty… Kyle B. O’Boyle
Brittany Coriaci… Ensemble
Danielle Davila… Ensemble
Gilbert Domally… Ensemble/Grandmaster/Chad
Michael Ehlers…. Ensemble/Dad/Winthrop/Dewey
Lara Hayhurst… Ensemble/Stenographer
Will Herndon… Ensemble/Swing
Ruchir Khazanchi… Ensemble/ Sundeep Padamadan
Yando Lopez… Ensemble/Lowell/Carlos
Mallory Maedke…. Ensemble/Reporter
Maria Montero… Ensemble
LaShera Zenise Moore… Ensemble/Store Manager/Judge
John Pletka… Ensemble
Sierra Schnack… Ensemble/Swing
Will Skrip… Ensemble/Pforzheimer/District Attorney
Anthony Sullivan Jr… Ensemble/Nikos
Leryn Turlington … Ensemble/Kate/Chutney
Aaron Umsted… Ensemble/Aaron Shultz
J Tyler Whitmer… Ensemble
Missy Wise… Ensemble/Courtney/Mom/Whitney/Joyce
Trent Stork… Director/Co-Choreographer
Kory Danielson… Music Director/Conductor
Megan E. Farley… Co-Choreographer
Jeffrey D. Kmiec…. Scenic Designer
Theresa Ham… Costume Designer
Nick Belley… Lighting Designer
Mike Tutaj… Projection Designer
Adam Rosenthal… Sound Designer
Katie Cordts…. Wig, Hair, and Makeup Designer
Jessey Gaffney…. Properties Desginer
Ethan Deppe… Electronic Music Desginer
William Berloni… Animal Traner
Jaq Seifert… Fight Choreographer
Maggie O’Donnell… Stage Manager
Matthew McMullen… Assistant Stage Manager
Calandra Daby… Assistant Director
Charlotte Rivard-Hoster…. Assistant Music Director and Associate Conductor
Through October 21, 2018
Wednesdays at 1:30pm and 7:00pm
Thursdays at 7:00pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 1:00pm and 5:30pm
The Paramount Theatre
23 East Galena Boulevard
Aurora, IL 60506
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.