Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: (Calgary) Legally Blonde

by Josef Vermeulen

With passionate energy, Legally Blonde the Musical has burst onto the stage at the Pumphouse Theatre.  Presented by Front Row Centre Players, Calgary’s community theatre musical company, Legally Blonde’s cast and production team are closing out their season with a bang.

Telling the story of Elle Woods, who ends up at Harvard Law chasing love, Legally Blonde is a musical theatre rendition of the movie with the same title. Elle’s journey from lovesick girl to full blown stereotype-busting woman is given excellent treatment on the musical stage and is, dare I say it, better than the movie. 

She also makes the emotional commitment needed

Leading this exciting cast is Ainsley Ohler as Elle Woods. Ohler gives life to Elle, successfully navigating the role’s ‘Blonde’ moments with ease and preventing her from becoming a one dimensional character. She also makes the emotional commitment needed to show Elle’s hurt by people in her life as well as bubbly triumph in showing everyone at Harvard that she is not defined by just the colour of her hair.

Phillip Frias’s Emmett Forrest is a heartwarming and likeable character. Able to get Elle up to standard with some tough love which he effortlessly transforms into the real thing as Emmett falls for Elle. His strong voice carries the role of Emmett into a wonderful companion to Elle’s soprano, most obviously in  their heartrending duet ‘Legally Blonde’ in the second act. Riley Ohler as Warner Huntington III and Kiki Secord as Vivienne Kensington provide a fun and (dis)likeable antagonist duo for most of Elle’s journey through Harvard Law. Also of note are Katelyn Morishita as Elle’s stylist friend Paulette. Morishita’s comic timing and obvious sincerity in what could easily become a ridiculously camp role really shine. Joining Morishita is UPS guy Kyle played by RJ Johnson-Brown. The pair makes a perfect flirty couple in love, and the laughs never stop when they are onstage. Greg Miller as Professor Callahan was not quite as intimidating and frankly scary as I would have liked, but his voice was very easily one of the strongest in the cast. A bit more menace would have made his performance excellent.

As is too often the case with community theatre, where it all fell down was in the sound.

The Delta Nu sorority girls were not only excellent dancers, but each one had a very clear character, even those with ensemble roles. They not only appear to be sorority sisters in the show, but they so very clearly are friends in real life and that energy is blatantly obvious on stage making their collective presence so much stronger. The male ensemble was likewise excellent, with great voices and dancing.

As is too often the case with community theatre, where it all fell down was in the sound. Yet again we were plagued with crackly microphones, too much mid-range on female voices, muffled words and songs and an overall muddy sound to the show.  Front Row Centre is moving to a newly built theatre for their next season, hopefully these issues are addressed there.  (One wonders if the continued use of wireless mics instead of well positioned area mics is not a hindrance to their sound quality rather than an asset.) The set, wardrobe and lighting designs all served the shows in unique and fun ways. The challenge of staging a mega-musical on a budget was met easily by the production's crew and it was a delight to see this show without all the technical magic that having a few million dollars can buy you.

I’ve said this before but I think it bears repeating, the cast and crew of Legally Blonde are doing this show not for the fame or the riches, but because each and every one of them enjoys doing it. The magic of community theatre is this connection between the people on and back stage, and the people in the audience there to support and encourage them. The very fact that companies such as Front Row Centre Players set the goal of staging such recent mega-musical Broadway hits and rise to their own challenge is why theatre should be done in the first place.  I use the word passion a lot when I discuss this type of theatre, but I think it’s not hyperbole, but a real and tangible thing and that community theatres deserve a lot more respect and admiration than they usually get. I guess I am passionate too.

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