5 Things to love about CMT’s ‘Legally Blonde’
Children’s Musical Theaterworks is pretty in pink for just three more performances on this closing weekend of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” I saw the show Friday night, and while I don’t write full-scale reviews of CMT productions, I often share some of the things I really liked. Here are five highlights of “Legally Blonde”:
Mallory Parker soars as Elle. Her stage presence as the show’s leading character — a UCLA sorority gal who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School — is exuberant and confident. Yet Parker also finds the quiet vulnerabilities in her character. Elle grows to realize that she doesn’t have to fulfill society’s expectations of how a woman with her background and looks is supposed to behave. This tension between entitlement and yearning, when played with empathy, makes for an empowering role.
Parker’s vocals are quite good, too, from her satisfying belt in “So Much Better” to the plaintive title song, which she sings when Harvard life seems to be falling apart. More than anything, Parker sparks a connection with the audience. It’s an impressive performance.
Three other cast members to single out: Michael Judge Ferrer, as the kindly Emmett (who alternates the role with Titus Abalos), is endearing, and his voice is a treat. Audrey Portela, as the snippy Vivienne, offers some sterling vocals and good acting. Michaela Boyles, as Paulette (she alternates the role with Katie Green), was a favorite of mine. Paulette’s quirks and gentleness come alive, and Boyles made her song “Ireland” the showstopper it needs to be. (Her performance was at a high enough level that I can offer one gentle criticism as well: She has to work on her articulation, particularly while singing.) Boyles has a promising musical-theater future in front of her.
I love the moment when the stage turns blood red to match the tie worn by Professor Callahan (played by a strong-voiced Joshua Bravo) in the first Harvard classroom scene. Dan Aldape’s lighting design is vibrant and lively, and his set design is clever as we shift among a variety of locations. (The courtroom to bathroom scene is just one impressive example.) Given the technical limitations of the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium and a tight budget, Aldape makes the production look really good. Abigail Paxton’s multitude of costumes are a highlight, too.
I’m not often truly surprised in terms of the staging of a show, but I’ll tell you: the sudden appearance of the Greek Chorus (a group of Elle’s UCLA sorority sisters) in an unexpected location made me almost jump out of my seat. (I don’t want to ruin the exact surprise, so I’ll leave it at that.) Director Vanessa Gonzalez figured out lots of good ways to keep this complicated show moving briskly forward. Her challenging choreography is a hit as well, with “What You Want” a well-prepared company highlight.
Finally, and most important, the show’s ensemble’s enthusiasm is contagious. There’s a lot deep-bench talent in this cast, with even smaller vocal solos (such as in “The Harvard Variations,” with snippets from Heidi Leiva and Nic Cherry) standing out. At various points I tried to watch each and every ensemble member, and almost without exception I could see commitment to character and on their faces.
Laura Bell Bundy, who originated the role of Elle on Broadway, worked with the cast in a special master class, and I can only imagine that her advice infused every cast member with a special drive. It obviously paid off. I’m tickled that a new generation is discovering that live theater is “So Much Better.”
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