After being dumped by her boyfriend due to not being perceived as serious enough for the political career he has planned for himself, Elle Woods hatches a plan to win back his love. She decides to follow him to Harvard Law School. Initially disdained by her classmates, Elle eventually shows them she’s got what it takes to be Legally Blonde which is currently playing at Lofte Community Theatre.
I had neither seen the movie nor read the original novel, but after seeing this show, I might now do so. The character of Elle Woods is a fictionalized version of the novel’s author, Amanda Brown, who was inspired to write the book based off her own experiences as a blonde law student at Harvard.
It’s actually a really great tale that reverses the traditional “fish out of water” story. In this case, the fish is already a highly popular student, but that popularity doesn’t follow her to Harvard due to the highly competitive, ultra-serious nature of her fellow law students. The show also touches on themes of self-respect and not to judge a book by its cover. A lot of Elle’s early troubles at Harvard are the result of her bubbly personality and obsession with fashion leading her peers to think she’s an idiot, conveniently ignoring the fact that she was admitted to Harvard which means she is smart (she had a 4.0 grade average as an undergrad). But when she finally applies herself, her peers’ eyes finally open to that reality.
Kevin Colbert’s direction is truly marvelous in this production. Energy starts at a fever pitch and manages to be maintained throughout the show. Pacing was right on the mark and Colbert knew how to merge the serious with the funny, expertly following those beats as those two elements were often in the same scene and, sometimes, the same moment. Colbert has molded a wonderful set of performances from his actors that were utterly believable and just a load of fun to watch.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, an invested ensemble adds so much to a large scale production and I was extremely impressed as to how much the ensemble was into this show. In bigger scenes, I kept my eyes on them just to see what little reactions and touches they would add and it really helped this world to blossom.
Some great performances in the supporting/featured cast include Wade Mumford who nearly got a standing ovation mid-show for the way he simply walked into a salon to make a delivery and let the women ogle him. Peyton Banks is shallow as the status chasing Warner Huntington III and has a nice falsetto with “Serious”. Zoe Tien exudes a great superior than thou attitude with her take on Vivienne Kensington, a rival of Elle’s who has a rod up her backside which had a rod up its backside that I strongly suspect had a rod up its backside. Max Antoine is very convincing as Professor Callahan, a popular law professor who is predatory inside and outside of the courtroom and classroom.
It was great seeing Anna Rebecca Felber grace a stage again as the theatre community has sorely missed her talents. Felber shines as Paulette Buonofuonte, the hairdresser with hutzpah who befriends Elle. Felber has comedic timing which can’t be taught and does more with a look or expression than some can with multipage monologues. Felber has the loyalty and “take no guff” attitude needed for the hard as nails New Englander. Felber can also belt out a tune like few can with a stirring rendition of “Ireland”.
Alex Rownd makes for a fine everyman as Emmett Forrest. Normally, he would be the traditional “fish out of water” as he came from the poor side of town and had to make it to Harvard based on grit and grades. But it’s his “fish out of water” nature that allows him to support Elle as he recognizes that same out of placeness in her and helps her to find that “chip on her shoulder” needed to succeed and quiet the naysayers. Rownd brings real decency and an honorable nature to the dedicated student and he has a pristine tenor which he can use to humorous effectiveness in “Chip On My Shoulder” to a sweet sadness in “Legally Blonde”.
I rather hope Lofte qualifies for OEA nominations because Olivia Sis’ portrayal of Elle Woods not only deserves a nomination for Leading Actor in a Musical, it was also, for my money, one of the best performances of the season.
Sis just exploded onto the stage and had energy that would light up New York. She perfectly captures Elle’s essence with that supreme self-confidence, enthusiastic personality, and devotion to fashion. Most importantly, she doesn’t play her dumb. Elle is smart, but not always a dedicated student unless the subject matter interests her. Sis laid out a beautiful arc for Elle as she actually starts this show with a lack of self-respect, though she may not be aware of it as she follows (almost stalks) her ex-boyfriend to Harvard to win him back. But when she realizes how vapid he is and the joy of using the law to help the underdog, she really begins to peak personally.
Sis also has an incredible singing voice as she consistently knocked balls out of the park with “What You Want, “So Much Better”, “Bend & Snap”, and “Legally Blonde”.
Benjamin Pettiford and his band nailed the peppy score to the floor and I give them bonus points for an item I’ll discuss shortly. Becca Schmucker has crafted the new best piece of choreography I’ve seen on a metro stage. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s inventive. And the dancing in “Whipped Into Shape” is easily the best dance number ever performed locally. Mark C. Koski at Sceneographics designed a very ambitious three tiered set with columns painted by Linda Dabbs whose rotations and incoming and outgoing properties of Shila Hansen & The Cast changed locales. Kevin Colbert’s lights help add some ambiance with the almost pinkish light in Elle’s room to the use of focused spotlights on more serious moments.
For all the great things this show offered, it had one powerful thing working against it and that was microphone volume. I had a very difficult time hearing the cast during Act I and they would sometimes be drowned out by the music of the band. And here’s where the bonus points come in as the band picked up on that and lowered the volume in Act II so the actors could be heard more easily and the issues finally cleared by the climax of the show.
That being said, this is still a virtually perfect night of theatre. It’s a fun story with some surprising depth fueled by a high powered cast more than up to the challenge. Take advantage of its last weekend and see a fantastic production.
Legally Blonde performs at Lofte Community Theatre through July 31. Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets cost $24 and can be purchased at www.lofte.org, visiting the Box Office, or by calling 402-234-2553. Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road in Manley, NE.