Andrew Newton & Lauren McCombs in Legally Blonde. Photo courtesy of Acting Against Cancer.
Music & Lyrics by Neill Bergman & Laurence O’Keefe
Book by Heather Hach
Directed by Jason Cooper
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
I am sure by now we are familiar with the pinkalicious story of Elle Woods: a beautiful and privileged Malibu Barbie-esque girl who attends college to party with her Delta Nu sorority sisters and potentially marry her beau, Warner, only to be dumped. She then follows him to Harvard Law School whereupon she is made anew through new friends and experiences.
To be sure, Legally Blonde is a feel-good musical, even though it is predictable and formulaic. What a company does with the formula is what will set it apart from other productions. Whitten Montgomery and Remy Sisk, the founding directors of Acting Against Cancer (AAC), have steadily grown this theater group from bed-sheet scenery and a makeshift stage in a basement, to an increasingly strong and vital part of Louisville’s dense and rich theatrical family. With every production I see continued growth, comfort, and increasing audiences. Legally Blonde is no exception.
A rarity for the troupe is the use of a visiting director and AAC decided to employ the marvelous talents of Jason Cooper, who is known in local theater circles, most notably from work with Pandora Productions and a residency with Playhouse on the Square. Working in tandem with the fantastic session musician Michael Vettraino, the two were able to bring out some of the more nuanced and deeper themes of the musical that in turn helped the company envelope their respective roles and shine forth.
With a musical like Legally Blonde, successful casting requires you find certain skills: singing, acting, and dancing. If you can find someone with gymnastic skills, well that’s a fun element too. Luckily for AAC they didn’t fair too badly in finding such talent. Despite some missteps and un-coordinated movement from the troupe, I credit choreographer Molly Kays for keeping the routines deceptively simple and engaging.
Lauren McCombs’ Elle is pretty much on the money. Although she is not the strongest vocalist, she sings admirably and her look and mannerism are absolutely on point. Neal Stansel’s Warner is fun. His duet with Ms. McCombs, “Serious,” was very entertaining. Andrew Newton got to the heart of his character Emmett Forrest, with all of the hard work and determination that one has to go through to achieve. While playing multiple roles, Andy Epstein, certainly not a stranger to the stages around Louisville, plays a fantastically smarmy Professor Callahan. Mandi Elkins Hutchins, did you channel ex-fitness guru Susan Powter for your turn as Brooke Wyndham? If so, you nailed it.
While the Sorority Sisters of Delta Nu and friends are talented, energetic and could hold some truly delightful harmonies, especially the Septet in “Gay or European”, there were often times that phrasing and notes would get lost in translation, most notably during larger dancing scenes. There were numerous times despite the cast wearing microphones and my sitting toward the front, it was difficult to hear dialogue, much less singing.
Speaking of toward the front, one of the hazards of a small stage and big cast is the close proximity to your audience. Imagine my delight when I get an up close and personal view of Kyle the UPS Guy’s “package”, deliciously played by David Beach. While I don’t mind it a bit, it might be a bit much for others.
But I digress. Perhaps the best performance of the show comes from Katelyn Webb and her interpretation of Paulette Buonufonte: a perfect voice for the role and she plays her hairdresser cum best friend to Elle to the hilt.
As with any live theater there will be an occasional microphone problem or missed light cue, but the energy and exuberance of the talented cast of AAC’s Legally Blonde certainly rose above and shined, giving its audience a delightful and entertaining piece of fluff.
Lest I forget two of the scene-stealers, Decepticon, who played Elle’s pampered pooch Bruiser, and Finn, who played Paulette’s puppy Rufus. These dogs were well trained and provided a few precocious moments for the audience. I personally enjoyed an occasional squeaky toy noise coming from the side curtains every now and again.
Thank you AAC for your mission and am glad that you keep raising the bar for yourselves with each production.
Friday, August 19, 2016: 8PM
Saturday, August 20, 2016: 8PM
Sunday, August 21, 2016: 2PM
Monday, August 22, 2016: 8PM
Tuesday, August 23, 2016: 8PM
Thursday, August 25, 2016: 8PM
Friday, August 26, 2016: 8PM
Saturday, August 27, 2016: 8PM
$20 in advance and $22 at the door and are available at showclix.com/event/aacBLONDE
Acting Against Cancer
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.