I’ve seen five different productions of LEGALLY BLONDE: THE MUSICAL. I love the show; its fun, its well written and smart, and you can’t help but leave feeling just a little lighter. It’s what modern musical theatre should be. And in the hands of the capable folks at UC’s famed College-Conservatory of Music it is that and then some. If you don’t know, its based on the famous movie, which is based on a book, about a love-sick sorority girl who worms her way into Harvard Law School to try to win back her ex. Once there, she discovers a bigger purpose for her life. It’s a crowd pleaser, for certain.
I saw it both Friday night and Saturday afternoon so that I could see both casts; “Elle” and “Emmett” were double cast and I wanted to try to see both versions before rendering a final verdict. Of course it was good; what sets this one apart though is the unbelievable performance of Lawson Young as “Elle.” Don’t misread this – Sarah Bishop’s take on the character is fun, vocally strong, and full of great energy. She’s awesome. But Young, who blew people away even as a CCM freshman with her performance in INTO THE WOODS, puts on a performance that is inspired. Of the five productions I’ve seen, she’s by far the best and that includes the national tour and PCLO last summer.
Let’s get some of the criticism out of the way. Friday night, the sound mix was pretty bad. I asked one of the sound designers to help me understand how things work (because I’m bold like that) and I appreciated his explanation of why there were issues. Things were better on Saturday and I do suspect its difficult to mix multiple leads, with a live orchestra. However, I am hopeful that overall CCM can improve this (it’s not the first time I’ve noticed the problem) to match the rest of their technical competence ongoing. In other less-than-positives, I thought a couple of the featured roles were miscast. And I don’t know what was going on with the set pieces (which are beautiful) but it seemed like the men moving them were having trouble locking them into place a couple of times. Minor issues to be sure.
I’ve already talked about “Elle,” but it bears repeating. Both Sarah Bishop and Lawson Young are dynamite but very different in their characterizations. I enjoyed both. Sarah makes great use of her comic abilities to mine the character for all the laughs and I liked how she played up the ditziness you expect with a “blonde” while possessing a quiet strength. I felt her pain when her ex-boyfriend, Warner, proposed to his new girlfriend; she really connected in that moment. Lawson on the other hand is a little more intense. Her Elle is more serious, more in command or her sorority, and a born leader. I liked them both!
Their counterparts playing “Emmett” couldn’t be more different from one another. Nathaniel Irvin is an amazing singer, and his tall, lanky frame lines up well with Bishop’s height. He brings a completely different energy to the character than I’ve seen before. Chris Collins-Pisano on the other hand has all the neurosis that typically comes with the role. He is a remarkable actor when playing this kind of character and I enjoyed his chemistry with Young a lot.
Clara Cox brings the physicality required with fitness-maven “Brooke Wyndham.” There’s something about her sense of humor that I’m drawn to, too. Ben Biggers as “Warner,” Elle’s ex-boyfriend is loutishly handsome. He has nice stage presence and has really developed over the last few shows. The Greek Chorus of Samantha Pollino, Raven Thomas, and Brianna Latrash are fun and Thomas especially shows great sass. I suspect she’s going to be a major star. Emily Trumble is once again at her villainous best (just as in CARRIE) as Vivienne and man, can she ever belt those big notes. Adam Zeph’s “Callahan” is poised and confident; its hard to play a character that much older but he handles it nicely. He could even notch things up a little and be even more effective. I like Gina Santere’s energy; her “Enid” is softer than most. She could bring a little more edge, I think. I adored her “Olive” in SPELLING BEE and this character is about as opposite from that as you get. Madeline Lynch’s “Paulette” seems to be a crowd pleaser. Michelle Coben’s very short turn as “Chutney” is a highlight and her work as “Kate” is solid, too. Tyler Jent is very funny in both his roles as “Aaron Schultz” and the prison guard. Tyler Johnson-Campion and Jay McGill both get lots of laughs. There are so many great performances it would take forever to acknowledge them all.
Diane Lala’s direction and choreography really show off what these talented students can do. Craig Dalton’s musical direction is fine, leading an orchestra that handles the contemporary score well. They do need to learn to play more softly, though, or at least at a consistent volume so that the sound board operator can more easily ensure that they’re not drowning out the vocalists. Joe Leonard’s set design is as good as you would see anywhere on any stage. Today it got a round of applause as the curtain opened! The lighting design by Wes Calkin, one of my favorites, is so good you barely notice it. In a show like this, that’s what you want. Costumes, wigs, all of the tech – all in all, I’d say every department succeeds in working together to produce this creative success.
LEGALLY BLONDE: THE MUSICAL is a energetic, satisfying show and CCM has brought all the elements together continuing their reputation as one of the best musical theatre programs in the country. We are so fortunate to have this school here in Cincinnati and I can’t wait to see what they do with PETER PAN in March. I strongly urge you to get tickets for both LEGALLY BLONDE and PETER PAN now. I assume next weekend’s performances will sell out. It should; its an amazing show.
LEGALLY BLONDE runs through November 2nd in the Patricia Corbett Theatre at the University of Cincinnati. Tickets and more information can be found here.