Stages St. Louis whips 'Legally Blonde' into shape

For the News-DemocratJuly 22, 2013 

Fizzy and fun, "Legally Blonde, the Musical" is disarming. With Elle's overabundance of pink and a perky overload among sorority sisters, it's important message is partially obscured by the fluff. But as the audience is won over, the female empowerment theme comes through loud and clear.

For its current 27th season, Stages St. Louis selected female empowerment as its theme -- first with the intimate memoir "Always, Patsy Cline," closing with iconic Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" and now presenting the charming Elle Woods and company, vivaciously bringing home the lesson "To thine own self be true."

This high-energy show percolates with interesting characters, and the dynamic Stages ensemble enhances the production with crisp precision dance numbers.

Indeed, the vigorously executed dance numbers are the show's strong suit, and Stages benefits from the Broadway run's associate choreographer Rusty Mowery's recreation. His dancers earned their six-packs with these fast-paced workouts.

Belleville East alumnus Joe Grandy is an exceptionally agile dancer, and was able to show off his moves as Grandmaster Chad and Carlos during Sunday's matinee. He can also be seen as Lowell during some performances.

The musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2007 and is now favored by theater groups across the U.S., is based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the 2001 movie. A UCLA sorority girl is dumped by her social-climbing beau, and she follows him to Harvard Law School in hopes of winning him back. But she discovers that her instincts make her a legal eagle.

The high-spirited cast seems to be having a blast, even the more stiff and staid roles of snooty Vivienne (Shannon O'Boyle) and law professor Callahan (David Schmittou).

Anchoring this musical comedy is Michelle London as Elle. It's not just her uncanny resemblance to Reese Witherspoon, who created the movie character, that makes her convincing. She embodies the Southern California glamour girl with a sweet sincerity. And she can rock a Playboy Bunny outfit as well as a navy pencil skirt.

London is matched by the animated Ben Nordstrom as Emmett, the corduroy blazer-wearing nice guy who falls in love with Elle. He's so likable on stage and they make a darling couple, working together seamlessly.

Other standouts include Heather Jane Rolff as cheerful beautician Paulette and Charlie Williams as her genial UPS guy Kyle. They brought the house down with "Bend and Snap" and "Ireland." Williams' strut drew gales of laughter from the crowd, and he milks it for all it's worth.

Nicolette Hart, who played Brooke Wyndham, the exercise queen whose murder trial takes up the second act, on Broadway, is a marvel in "Whipped into Shape."

The Reim theater setting allows for a sprightly show like this to connect with the audience, because of its accessible staging. The many set changes are a challenge, but Michael Hamilton's smooth direction is breezy and fluid. James Wolk's scenic design is clever and efficient.

The only quibble is that the music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin aren't all that memorable, but this cast sure sells them. "Legally Blonde" elevates the endorphins and hammers the "Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover" point in such winning fashion, one must surrender to the pink.

What: Stages St. Louis presents "Legally Blonde, the Musical"

When: through Aug. 18

Where: Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood.

Tickets and information: www. stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407

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