BWW Reviews: LEGALLY BLONDE Wows Audiences at Woodbury's Arts Center of Cannon County


Ohmigod…ohmigod, you guys…Elle Woods-the sharp-as-a-tack, pink-clad heroine of movies, musical theater and an MTV reality series-is brought to life in Woodbury in an exuberant, if technically flawed, production of Legally Blonde, The Musical, onstage at The Arts Center of Cannon County through July 21. Directed by Mary Ellen Smith and choreographed by Maggie Richardson, Legally Blonde features a fresh-faced, youthful cast who bring the show's characters to the stage with an exhilarating sense of purpose that succeeds even despite an overly ambitious set design that slows down the plot's pacing.

Led by Lindsay Mapes (whose own blonde beauty and command of the musical theater stage has predestined her to excel in the role that's coveted by young actresses the world over) as Elle, Smith's cast energetically take over the pink, black and white-painted stage to bring the story of the aspiring Harvard law student-who, after a lifetime of California-bred indulgence, aspires to something "so much better"-to life in front of sold-out audiences at ACCC. Eager to please, Smith's troupe of young players display an unbridled enthusiasm as they become the characters we first met in the wildly successful film comedy that was led by Nashville-born and bred Reese Witherspoon.

The musicalization of Legally Blonde, while faithful to its film origins, both condenses and amplifies the story we came to love in the film, and Heather Hach's smart and sharply written book helps to focus even more attention on Elle and her eventual metamorphosis from the golden-tressed Malibu Barbie we first meet to the brainy blonde of the courtroom that we watch her become. The songs-with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Neil Benjamin-move the confectionary tale along its way (some are more successful than others, certainly) with tuneful, hummable compositions that allow Elle and her friends to more easily be brought to life onstage.

Sure, the musical has an effervescent, almost lighter-than-air quality about it-you cannot deny it's like a big ol' puff of pink cotton candy about to send you into a sugar-fed coma-but there's an undeniable sensibility to be found in the show that allows it to shine in all its elucidating promise and which makes Elle a role model for pre-pubescent and adolescent girls and little gay boys since her first appearance on a movie screen. In other words, there is indeed a method to Elle's heartfelt and genuine "madness": There's much more substance to Elle Woods than you might expect after a first, cursory glance.

Act One (which opens with the rousing and spirited "Ohmigod You Guys") tends to move at a treacly pace (due in large part to cumbersome set changes that bring the action to a halt and the presence of stagehands moving set pieces around in full light-WTF?), but Act Two moves along at a very good pace and features the show's best number "There! Right There!" Asking the musical question, "Is he gay or European," the number is enormously engaging, terrifically entertaining and imaginatively staged and delivers a payoff that musical comedy audiences live for…and ensemble members John David Welch, Caleb Marshall and Matt Hunter deliver the goods in roles that could almost be relegated to the after-thought stockpile.

Mapes plays Elle with ample charm leavened by an undertone of seriousness; as a result, the lines she delivers-even the most ridiculously vapid ones-seem borne of truth and a genuineness of spirit that is essential to make Elle both believable and entertaining. Mapes' stage presence is fairly palpable (particularly in her big 11 o'clock number "Legally Blonde"), from the moment we first meet her as she shops for her engagement dinner dress to the end of the show when we see her as a Harvard Law grad destined for greatness in the courtroom (that whole Legally Blonde II debacle notwithstanding).

Mapes is paired with the always impressive Michael Adcock as Warner Huntington IV, whose smarmy charm and prepster slickness provides plenty of laughs in the course of the two-plus hours of musical comedy-fueled onstage fun. Drew Jenkins presents a fine portrait of Emmitt Forrest-the law clerk whose hardscrabble background paints him as the antithesis of the privileged California girl-although I wish his transformative number "Take It Like Man" could have resulted in a bigger reveal.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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