LEGALLY BLONDE

Elle Woods wins cases and hearts once again as Cupcake Theater entertains SoCal audiences with a dynamically performed Legally Blonde, marred on opening night by some serious technical glitches but worth a standing ovation for Arri Leigh’s star-making performance as the most bodaciously brainy blonde beauty Harvard University has ever seen.

Heather Hach’s 2007 Tony-nominated book has jilted UCLA Fashion Merchandising grad Elle acing her LSATs, winning over the Harvard University Admissions board, and entering Harvard Law School in a bid to win back the heart of ex-boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Daniel Floren), who’s dumped her in favor of blue-blooded brunette Vivienne Kensington (Caroline Wlson).

Naturally, Elle finds herself in for a lot more than she bargained for both in and around hallowed Ivy League halls peopled by (among others) her nerdishly charming upper class law student mentor Emmett Forrest (Tim Jenkins), her Machiavellian Professor Callahan (David Callander), her hairstylist/new best buddy Paulette (Kristen Pickrell), and fitness guru Brook Wyndham (Hartleigh Burwick), on trial for murdering her much older multimillionaire spouse.

Legally Blonde The Musical adds to the movie’s proven crowd-pleasing plot one of the brightest and best Broadway scores in recent years (Tony-nominated music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin), songs which actually advance the plot rather than simply providing an entertaining musical interlude between stretches of dialog.

Thomas Adoue Polk helms Cupcake’s Legally Blonde with inventiveness and flair (the “mannequins” Elle and Emmett encounter on their dress-to-impress shopping spree are particularly inspired), and the first-time director is rewarded by one winning performance after another, beginning with a leading lady born to play Elle.

With her Nordic beauty, spun-glass blonde tresses, and perfectly proportioned curves, Leigh convinces us she is Elle Woods from the moment we first see her. More importantly she emotes with honesty and charm, aces the role’s vocal and dance challenges, and makes it clear that beneath Elle’s surface beauty lies a heart of gold and a brain easily capable of turning her into a Harvard star.

Jenkins makes for a pretty darned irresistible Emmett (and sings terrifically to boot), Burwick turns “Whipped Into Shape” into a pulse-pounding display of athleticism and power pipes, and Pickrell reinvents Paulette as a plus-size force of nature with sassy comedic chops and a belt to reach the rafters.

Floren gives Warner the chiseled cheekbones of a GQ cover model, Callander is silky-voiced sliminess personified as Callahan, Wilson convinces us that mean girl Vivienne might just have a heart not made of ice, and Julie Ouellette is a hoot as Elle’s feminist classmate Enid.

Kelly Hancock (Serena), Adelle Panico (Margot), and ThursZday (Pilar) are sparkling song-and-dance delights as Elle’s three best sorority sister chums (and her Greek Chorus at Harvard).

Michael Dumas and Tristen Ross flame both fabulously and endearingly as gay-or-European couple Nikos and Carlos, Dumas doubling as rapper Grandmaster Chad and Ross as third-world monarch-turned-law student Padamadan.

Choreographer Rehyan Rivera steps in opening weekend only as UPS hunk Kyle (looking darned sexy in trademark brown short sleeves and shorts) and Paulette’s burly ex Dewey, and Kelsey Nisbett takes what could be a throw-away role (overly-permed Chutney) and turns her into a delicious bundle of scene-stealing quirks (in addition to doubling as Kate).

Last but not least, Leo Ayala, Tara Carbone, Isaiah Griffith, Zack Parker, Linda Neel, and Alexa Vellanoweth bring to life more cameo roles than I could possibly count while singing and dancing with absolute commitment.

Rivera-choreographed show-stoppers include Brooke’s taeboe/jump rope aerobics class calorie-burner “Whipped Into Shape,” “Bend And Snap” (an R&B celebration of Elle’s very own, 99% effective man-catcher), and a title tune that starts off a drop-dead gorgeous ballad, then turns into a high-energy “Legally Blonde Remix.”

The entire cast looks fabulous in costume after costume on scenic designer Robert Broadbent’s versatile, appropriately pink set while harmonizing under Dylan Price’s assured musical direction backed by Legally Blonde’s crackerjack band (Jon Butterworth, Ethan Chiampas, Alec de Kervor, and Price).

Unfortunately, despite what I presume were sound designer Rebecca Kessin and sound engineer Alexandra Daniel’s best efforts, opening night was plagued with multiple mike problems (frequent scratches, loud pops, and muted mikes) and a band volume turned up so high as to make lyrics unintelligible to those unfamiliar with Legally Blonde’s score, and James Smith III’s lighting design suffered too from lights dimmed when they were supposed to be on and LEDs gone wild in Act Two. (A week of previews might be in order for future productions.)

Legally Blonde is produced by Michael Pettenato. Rhonda Karson is production stage manager and Katie McConaughy was rehearsal stage manager. Sarah Resnick is assistant stage manager.

Jana Souza alternates with Leigh as Elle, David Gallic alternates with Callander as Callahan, and Connor Bullock takes over Kyle and Dewey beginning week two. Mark LaDuke, Jennifer Saltiel, and Brittany Thornton understudy major roles.

One of the bounciest, brightest, funniest, and most tuneful Broadway musicals of the past ten years, Legally Blonde had me in its spell from its 2009 National Tour, and eight productions later I find it every bit as entertaining a musical comedy treat. Once sound and lighting issues have been ironed out, Cupcake Theater looks to have a blondelicious hit on its hands.

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Cupcake Theater, 11020 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Through August 6. Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 6:00.
www.cupcaketheater.com

–Steven Stanley
June 16, 2017

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