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Theatre review: Legally Blonde: The Musical is frivolous fun

legally-blonde-cast.jpg

Members of the cast of the Theatre Under the Stars production of Legally Blonde: The Musical. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Some things never change.

When Legally Blonde: The Musical made its last appearance in Vancouver, rolling into town in a 2011 touring production, I grumbled about it taking a whole act before things really started to be fun.  Fast forward two years and Theatre Under the Stars opens its 67th season with a production of this lightweight musical that, not surprisingly, suffers the same fate.

Based on Amanda Brown’s novel and the 2001 ditzy non-musical film version, Legally Blonde: The Musical tells the story of Elle Woods who follows her self-absorbed ex-boyfriend Warner to Harvard Law School in an attempt to woo him back.   At first ridiculed as a vapid blonde with a fondness for pink, Elle soon proves that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

Despite a first act that drags, the cast here is uniformly good with Breanne Arrigo making a perfectly perky Elle, Peter Cumins a perfectly self-absorbed Warner and Scott Walters a perfectly nerdish and corduroy clad Emmett.  With a trio of great voices it helps to forgive the less than memorable lyrics and music from Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin.

The real star of this show though is Katie Murphy as fitness guru Brooke who finds herself being defended by Woods after being accused of murdering her husband.  Murphy not only has a killer voice, but her killer body and killer moves in the act two opener “Whipped Into Shape” sets the tone for the much superior second half.

Cathy Willmot once again proves herself as one of our city’s finest community players as trailer trash hairdresser Paulette, managing to make even her most ridiculous moments (and there are lots of those in this show) both believable and incredibly fun.

Part of the Legally Blonde shtick is the women of the Delta Nu sorority who pop-up every so often as Elle’s Greek chorus, but much of the fun is lost with a sound that was almost as irritating as a Valley Girl accent.

Members of the cast of the Theatre Under the Stars production of Legally Blonde: The Musical. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Members of the cast of the Theatre Under the Stars production of Legally Blonde: The Musical. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Doing doing double-duty as director and choreographer, Valerie Easton puts her cast through its paces with some incredibly athletic dance moves.

It appears that set designer Drew Facey and costume designer Chris Sinosich may have had to arm wrestle over their share of the production budget.  This time Sinosich has come out triumphant, and while Facey does get to have a little fun with the opening, his set design quickly becomes surprisingly drab.  The huge white curtain that dominates a lot of the show just begged for something.

Musical director Danny Balkwill works hard to keep his orchestra in check and while it was a little rough at times during the first half, they did find their groove as the show went on.

As my theatre companion said as we exited under the cool summer skies at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl last night, Legally Blonde: The Musical is what it is.  If your summer outdoor theatre tradition tends towards frivolous fun, then this is your show.  If you’re looking for something a little meatier, you’ll probably want to try something over in that other park, under a tent.

Legally Blonde: The Musical

Music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Book by Heather Hatch. Based on a story by Amanda Brown.  Directed and choreographed by Valerie Easton. Musical direction by Danny Balkwill.  Playing in repertory with How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying through August 17, 2013.  Visit http://www.tuts.ca for tickets and information.

Mark Robins on Google+

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