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vancouverplays review


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— Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe & Neil Benjamin
Book by Heather Hach
Theatre Under the Stars
Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park
July 8-Aug. 17
$19-$44 at or 604-696-4295

This was Jerry's review of the production last summer.

Theatre Under the Stars kicks off its 67th season with a show that's way better than it has any right to be. Legally Blonde: The Musical, based on the hit movie starring Reese Witherspoon, is sexist, silly, and riddled with stereotypes. It's also funny, clever, and utterly delightful. Plus it has hot guys in tight shorts and lots of leggy young women in their underwear. So what's not to like on a beautiful summer evening in Stanley Park?

I'm definitely becoming a sucker for mindless musicals in my old age. But Vancouver theatre is also getting much better at doing them. Long this town's best theatrical choreographer, Valerie Easton has become a crackerjack director as well. Here she shows a firm creative hand and a nice comic touch in guiding her cast of 34 humans and 2 dogs through an extravagant fantasy of girl power.

The musical closely follows the plot of the movie. Elle (Breanne Arrigo) is a Malibu princess, pretty in pink, president of her UCLA sorority, and primed to become engaged to boyfriend Warner (Peter Cumins). Her sorority sisters, led by a lively trio of friends (Marissa Dunbar, Emily Henney, Synthia Yusuf), celebrate the event in the giddy opening number “Omigod You Guys.”

But flakey Warner, on his way to Harvard Law School, wants a more substantial bride to suit his political ambitions. Airhead Elle won't do. But is she really an airhead? Apparently not, because she too gets into Harvard Law. The faculty consider admitting her under their multiculturalism mandate but instead she shows up with cheerleaders and a band, and that somehow gets her in.

Elle finds herself in Professor Callahan's law class with Warner and his snooty new girlfriend, Vivienne (Andrea Bailey), working class hero Emmett (Scott Walters), and militant feminist Enid (Nicole Stevens). Nasty Callahan (big-voiced Warren Kimmel) wants to teach them to be sharks, singing his vicious “Blood in the Water.” Feeling like a fish out of water, Elle retreats to a salon where she's befriended by beautician Paulette (the terrific Cathy Wilmot), who sings the show's first real knockout song, “Ireland,” her fantasy of all things good.

Callahan and his students have been hired to defend fitness instructor Brooke, accused of murdering her rich old husband. The second acts opens with the killer number “Whipped into Shape,” as a chorus of hot dancers, led by fantastic Katie Murphy as Brooke, jump rope and sing in a dynamite display of musical athleticism. 

Back at the salon, Elle and her sorority sisters teach Paulette how to get a man using their “Bend and Snap” method, and sure enough, she snags sexy postman Kyle (Jacob Woike) and the two lead a hilarious Irish dance number.

Bend and Snap also proves useful to Elle in the courtroom, where she tries to prove that the prosecution's key witness—pool boy Nikos (Daniel Cardoso), who claims he was having an affair with Brooke—is actually gay. This is done in a fabulous number where everyone in the courtroom wonders, "Is he gay or European?" Even if they never write another decent song again, composer/lyricists Laurence O'Keefe and Neil Benjamin should go directly to musical comedy heaven for this one. Easton and her cast stage it to hilarious perfection. 

Needless to say, everyone gets what they deserve at the end, the fantasy punctuated by Elle's speech as class valedictorian.

This show scores despite less than fully successful performances by the two leads. Arrigo, an accomplished singer and dancer, needs another gear to her Elle to match the energy of the women around her. Walters' likable Emmett needs a stronger voice to come over the top of Danny Balkwill's 13-piece orchestra. Kudos to Chris Sinosich for her eye-candy costumes.

King Lear it's not, but Legally Blonde is big summer fun.

Jerry Wasserman