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”:

1.

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.

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Mallory Parker stars as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks

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.

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In 2018, ‘Legally Blonde’ graduates to a new era

The director of the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production updates the show’s message of female empowerment

THEATER PREVIEW

You’re a first-time director for Children’s Musical Theaterworks, and your assignment is “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” You find out that a special guest will be dropping by six days before opening night to help your cast prepare: none other than Laura Bell Bundy, who originated the role of Elle Woods on Broadway.

Are you nervous?

Well, sure, says director Vanessa Gonzalez. Who wouldn’t be? But she took it in stride.

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The cast of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks

“There was definitely a large amount of nerves that came with preparing for the master class, but the excitement of getting feedback and the BEST set of eyes for this production truly outweighed any nerves,” she says.

I caught up this week with the busy Gonzalez, who last year choreographed CMT’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” She has her hands full overseeing a production with 50 cast members ages 12-20.

Q: Tell us a little about what Bundy focused on during the class.

A: Laura Bell focused on character nuances for both principal and ensemble actors throughout the show. I selected four numbers/scenes for her to watch and she then spoke with almost every actor about their characters’ motivation and specificity during the scene. She was particularly helpful with the Delta Nu girls in developing different but complementary character types.

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With the original Elle Woods on hand, CMT’s ‘Blonde’ has more fun

Laura Bell Bundy, who originated the role on Broadway, drops in for a master class with the cast of the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Legally Blonde”

The setting on Sunday evening: The stage of the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium, soon to host opening night of the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”

The dominant color: Pink. Would you expect anything else? The multi-level set, a series of cube-like platforms stacked on top of each other, shouts “pink” in every variation.

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Laura Bell Bundy, center, poses with the cast of CMT’s “Legally Blonde.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks

The star attraction: None other than Laura Bell Bundy, the original “Elle Woods” in the Broadway production of “Legally Blonde.” Bundy originated the role of Amber Von Tussle in “Hairspray” and was a standby for Kristin Chenoweth in “Wicked,” and she has a couple of TV series (“Hart of Dixie” and “Anger Management”) under her belt. In recent years, she’s increased the pulse rates of Elle Woods-in-training across the country by offering youth master classes. (“It’s such an awesome honor to see young people learning the craft of musical theater,” Bundy tells the audience.)

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Win tickets to see Laura Bell Bundy, Broadway’s original Elle Woods

Broadway and TV star is in Fresno on Sunday to conduct a master class and give a mini-concert in advance of Children’s Musical Theaterworks’ ‘Legally Blonde’

Welcome to Fresno, Laura Bell Bundy.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell for readers out there, then you aren’t up on your “Legally Blonde” lore. Bundy was the first Elle Woods in the Broadway musical. (And hardcore theater fans know that originating a role is a very big deal, indeed.) Bundy is in town this weekend to offer a master class and mini-concert for cast members and the general public in the upcoming Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Legally Blonde,” which opens Friday, April 13, at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

LBB Poster

And you can win a pair of tickets to the mini-concert and the CMT production of “Legally Blonde” itself!

Bundy’s master class is noon-4 p.m. Sunday, April 8, at the theater. It will follow the typical format, says CMT board president K.C Rutiaga: The cast is prepared to perform scene work, group numbers, and principal solos and duets from the show with Bundy’s guidance and suggestions. The class will take place on stage with the observing non-cast members watching up close from the audience. Bundy also will do a Q&A session with the cast and audience members involving the Broadway production of “Legally Blonde,” her career, and the industry in general. Tickets are $40.

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A fond adieu to 2017

I’ve already told you my Top 20 favorite cultural events for 2017. Now here are a couple of year-ender wrap-up lists that I can’t resist:

My favorite stories of the year

My criteria: It’s completely subjective. I just like how these stories came out. For some, it was the fun in reporting them, and for others the joy in writing them. (Note: Because of my hybrid year — working through May as the Fresno Bee’s arts reporter, and the remainder of the year in my new role at The Munro Review — you’ll find stories from both platforms.) Here they are in chronological order:

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In the moment of totality: my photograph taken from Mary’s Peak in central Oregon on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Photo / The Munro Review

In Delphi, a mysterious past provokes navel gazing: In this travel piece from Greece, I visit the strangely moody location where the famed oracles changed the ancient world.

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Now streaming: the January episode of ‘The Munro Review’

A special thanks to the cast of Selma Arts Center’s “Spring Awakening” for being my January guests on “The Munro Review,” produced by the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC). I interview director Dominic Grijalva and actors Kindle Lynn Cowger and Kai DiMino about the production, which opens Jan. 26, and host two musical performances from the entire cast. They sound great. You don’t want to miss it.

Plus, I recap my coverage of Good Company’s “A Christmas Carol,” Fresno State’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” CMT’s “Annie,” Good Company’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” and Audra McDonald’s upcoming concert with the Fresno Philharmonic. And I preview Good Company’s “Sense and Sensibility” and “Annie,” tell you about a quirky little show called “Calculus: The Musical,” discuss the upcoming national tour of “Kinky Boots,” and give a shout-out to the Fresno Art Museum’s winter exhibitions.

You can watch the episode on demand on YouTube (above). And you can see it on broadcast TV on CMAC 1 (Comcast 93, AT&T 99) the following dates:

Monday, January 1 – 8:00 pm
Wednesday, January 3 – 8:00 pm
Friday, January 5 – 2:30 pm
Sunday, January 7 – 12:30 pm


To subscribe to the email newsletter for The Munro Review, go to this link:

https://tinyletter.com/donaldfresnoarts

A mixed ‘Annie’ at CMT, but still lots of heart

Children’s Musical Theaterworks production continues through Sunday at Veterans Memorial Auditorium

THEATER REVIEW

With an all-ages cast, the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie” is a hybrid of community theater and children’s theater. I don’t truly “review” children’s theater, at least in terms of finding areas of improvement needed with individual performances, but I do offer my opinions on community theater. So the review that follows is also a hybrid that blends my approaches to community and children’s productions: I offer five aspects of the show I find really strong; and a couple of areas that could use some improvement.

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Samantha Shaheen-Smith, center, shares the title role of Annie with Elizabeth Burbidge in the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production. Photo / CMT

Overall, this “Annie” is not as accomplished as other CMT productions of the same title I’ve seen in the past. And it doesn’t reach the heights of some other CMT community theater productions. But there’s still a lot to like about the show:

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Win tickets to ‘Annie,’ ‘The Nutcracker’ and Soli Deo Gloria

In this special Three in One contest, you can enter for all three events

Do you long to get out to one of this weekend’s fun cultural performances, but your budget doesn’t allow it? Perhaps my special Three in One ticket giveaway can help.

I’m giving the following away to three notable events:

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• A pair of tickets to Soli Deo Gloria’s big holiday concert (7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, University Presbyterian Church), which features music from Fresno’s all-women choral ensemble. You can watch an interview with artistic director Julie Carter and hear a performance by some of the singers on the latest video version of The Munro Review (interview starts at the 11:20 minute mark).

• Two pairs of tickets to the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie” (for the 7:30 p.m. performance on Saturday, Dec. 9, Veterans Memorial Auditorium). You can read my preview here.

• Two pairs of family four-packs — if you’re a winner, you get four tickets — to the Central California Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” (for the 7:30 p.m. performance on Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Saroyan Theatre). You can watch an interview with directors Shirley Winters and Carla Lippert and dancer Marin Brant on the latest video version of The Munro Review (interview starts at the 5:00 minute mark).

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