Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Legally Blonde:" It's Fun in the First Degree

Elle Woods (Sarah Ledtke) confides her woes to Paulette (Anna Blair).  News-Progress photos by Keith Stewart.

Gay or just exotic?
I still can’t crack the code
Yet, his accent is hypnotic
But his shoes are pointy toed

Gay or European?
So many shades of gray
But if he turns out straight
I’m free at eight on Saturday.
  “There, Right, There.” from “Legally Blonde”

By Dan Hagen
Willowy and witty, pretty and poised, Sarah Ledtke never makes a false step as the star of the Little Theatre’s final show of its 2014 summer season, “Legally Blonde.”
As Elle Woods, Malibu boy-chaser turned Harvard Law ace, she brings the same qualities of likability, whimsy and stage presence to the role as Reese Witherspoon did in the original hit film, although not at all in the same way.
Ledtke’s confident gestures easily arrest the audience’s attention. With empathy, without preaching, Ledtke sells the show’s ever-relevant message — that you don’t have to be limited by other people’s low estimation of your worth. It’s a pleasure to watch a professional performer who has such command of her craft.
Director Therese Kincade did an equally professional job of casting this musical, and all her principals find a comfortable fit in their roles. She’s got Mike Danovich, the season’s most reliably solid player, as Warner, the preppy boyfriend who thinks he’s too good for Elle. She has energetic Tiffany Sparks as Brooke Wyndham, the exercise queen on trial for murdering her elderly hubby. Anna Blair is the gaudy but good-hearted salon owner Paulette, balancing show-stopping clown against endearing underdog.
Andy LeBon, who was so good as Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” brings his ringing note of authority to bear on the John Houseman-like role of the arrogant and brilliant Harvard criminal law professor Callahan.
Will Skrip as Emmett Forrest
And Will Skrip is diffident and winning as Emmett Forrest, the teaching assistant who appreciates Elle for her genuine potential. Skrip’s and Ledtke’s romantic relationship is a believable slow burn over the course of the show, and satisfying when it finally ignites. Nice to see a musical that takes the trouble to make us believe that boy has a reason to meet girl.
A really enjoyable show — and this one is — always has gems scattered even among the minor roles. For example, there’s Brady Miller (Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors”). When choreographer Amber Mak needs some particularly spectacular bit of stuff done, Miller is always there spinning across the stage to do it. Haley Jane Schafer, Megan E. Farley and Emily Rhein are the vapidly vivacious sorority sisters who form a “Greek chorus” in Elle’s head (get it?). Duncan Barrett Brown brings an earnest charm and stage presence to the role of Kyle, the well-defined UPS man who pitty-pats Paulette’s pulse.
The music, by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, is witty and peppy and drives the plot of the show, rather than impeding it. That keeps the show’s pace briskly satisfying, and the eye-catching costumes by Jana Henry and splashy lighting by Mark Hueske also work toward a unified effect.
Lebon takes command in the crowd-pleasing number about lawyers, “Blood in the Water.” Ledtke, Blair, Brown and the Greek chorus celebrate the innocent eroticism of the “Bend and Snap.” The song “There, Right, There,” in which Elle must figure out if a witness is gay in order to discredit his testimony, is simply hilarious, and was probably the most popular number the night I saw the show. And the song “Take It Like a Man,” in which Ledtke takes Skrip to a men’s clothing store and their love unfolds like a pricey shirt, is delightful. One particularly witty touch is the perfume demonstrators. They wander about the store and punctuate the drama with heavily symbolic Calvin Klein fragrances like “Love” and “Subtext.”
And what do I smell here? A hit.
Incidental intelligence: Legally Blonde, a show with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Hach, is based on the novel Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown and the 2001 film of the same name. It runs through Aug. 10 at the Little Theatre.
This production has scenic design by Noel Rennerfeldt, sound design by Jason Seigel, stage management by Jeremy J. Phillips and musical direction by Kevin Long.
The cast includes Emma Taylor, Hanah Rose Nardone, Marty Harbaugh, Josh Houghton, David Barkley, Andy Frank, iko Pagsisihan, Colleen Johnson and Jack the Dog (as “Bruiser”).
For tickets, call The Little Theatre On The Square Box Office at 217-728-7375.

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