Saturday, November 23, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) Legally Blonde

Omigod I Had Fun
by Jim Murchison

The Orpheus season opened up with the frothy Legally Blonde The Musical. As frivolous as it appears on the surface, the themes are pretty positive. Be true to yourself, don't judge a book by its cover and apply yourself and you can succeed are the ideas that run through this play with book by Heather Hach and music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin.

For those who don't know the story it's pretty simple. Girl loses love, travels to Harvard to get it back and discovers things about herself that make her a better person. There is certainly stereotyping that relies on the audience recognition to sell the joke, but it is so loving and fun-spirited in the delivery that it isn't insulting, and pulls out a few hearty laughs.

Director Cindy Beaton, musical director Wendy Berklaar and choreographer Debbie Millett keep an enthusiastic ensemble on track and to me that is clearly what has kept this theatre going for over a century.  Camaraderie is what fuels  both the characters in Legally Blonde and the Orpheus theatre so it is an obvious fit. One of the things I liked most in the ensemble was Elle Woods conscience represented by the Greek Chorus. If Greek choruses always had humorous choreography, cute songs and were a little bouncier I'd probably like Sophocles. 

The principal character, Elle Woods, is played by Emily Reid with a straightforward clear eyed sparkle. The main stumbling blocks to success are her ex-boyfriend Warner Huntington III and professor Callahan. Jacob Atkinson actually is not a total villain as the ex. He plays Warner with enough likeability that you understand what Elle found attractive in him, but with ambition over principal it becomes obvious to the audience  pretty quickly that he is not right for her. Callahan is played with such a smooth, crafty arrogance by Dean Ross he is probably the clearest villain.

The strength for Elle and for the play is her friends: Derek Eyamie as Emmett Forrest who is clearly smitten with Elle but always holds her interest at heart. The audience instantly relates to him and roots for him immediately. 

The obvious runaway favourite of the audience last night though was Nicole Milne as the hairdresser with a heart of gold Paulette Buonafonte. Milne takes a very broad character and adds so much nuance and craft that it takes the performance to another level that makes her totally adorable. We should all have a friend like Paulette.

Overall, this is exactly what appeals to the Orpheus audience I believe. It is a piece that you don't have to take too seriously, but that has an underlying story that is positive and great fun. I enjoyed myself a lot.

Runtime: approximately 140 minutes with one intermission

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