BWW Review: Student Stars! OCVTS Performing Arts Academy's LEGALLY BLONDE at The Strand
The OCVTS: Performing Arts Academy (PAA) is a full-time four year performing arts high school located in Ocean County, New Jersey. The students of the school are required to academically test in order to attend and be in one of the four majors of study: acting, vocal, dance, or audio. Having graduated from the academy, I was aware of the high level of production and performance quality the school is capable of doing and truly looked forward to seeing their production of Legally Blonde.
I had the pleasure of seeing the first public performance of the show on Thursday, February 20th at The Strand Center for the Arts in Lakewood, NJ. I was greeted by the lovely team behind the production as I got to explore backstage prior to the show. The cast and crew consisted of PAA high school students, along with performance instructors; director Doug Bollinger, musical director/conductor Mary Kenny, choreographer Kelly Bourke, production coordinator/technical director Tara Mangano, and sound designer William Bourke. I'd like to credit these instructors for their passion and guidance on PAA productions, making these experiences both joyful and extremely educational hands-on experiences for students.
When entering the lobby I would like to note the warm atmosphere provided by the OCVTS staff and house crew. Having attended the Thursday afternoon performance, a free lunch was provided by the OCVTS Culinary Arts program students - all which were so kind and made the theatre experience all the more enjoyable. I've always loved the atmosphere of The Strand, and it is always so much more inspiring when there is a great team putting up a show.
From the moment you walk into the theatre space, the audience is greeted by the notable Delta Nu Sorority House. Following right into the number "Omigod You Guys", it was clear to see the delightful energy that the cast would emit throughout the performance, enhancing an already lovely experience. The performers who took to the stage were not only extremely talented, but phenomenally transported the audience into the world of Legally Blonde that we all know and love. With a show that heavily relies on a team to work together, this production truly had a notable cast and crew.
Playing our protagonist, Emma Casertano lit up the stage. Having seen her perform exquisitely before as Velma Kelly in Chicago, I was excited to see her in this fun role. Elle Woods, surfacely seen as a 'ditzy' blonde, is a layered character that has the potential to be unliked by an audience. However, Casertano's performance left me in awe as she so beautifully embodied the character's thoughtful, genius, and energetic traits.
Further exploring into our story were Elle's love interests; phenomenal performances by Jacob Canderozzi as Emmett Forrest and Jackson Mizell as Warner. The two male actors wonderfully contrasted both Elle, and each other. As the third number in the show, "Serious" performed by Mizell and Casertano gave the audience insight into the lovely talent to be showcased in the musical. Mizell's timing and confidence as Warner was extremely entertaining allowing us to see the established relationship between the characters. Not only that but I truly enjoyed the staging and direction in this fun number, making it a favorite! Further establishing a presence between characters was Canderozzi's strong performance and stage presence throughout the production, especially seen in his rendition of "Chip On My Shoulder".
A performance I truly applaud was that of Rachel Zimmer as Paulette. Zimmer's take on the Irish-loving hairdresser was the perfect combination of quirky, lovable, and endearing. Truly taking the stage in "Ireland" and a hilarious solo that had the audience roaring in "Bend and Snap". Brooke Wyndham, played by Sienna Grinwald-Alves, was another strong character with a striking performance and musical number. Opening up the second act with a show-stopping jump rope sequence of "Whipped Into Shape", Grinwald-Alves and the phenomenal ensemble won the applause of the audience. I strongly commend the cast and team for their striking performance!
The antagonists of the show were played by Madhavi Steinert and Jared Pesciotta. Steinert as Vivienne strongly encapsulated the typical lawful prude and smoothly transitioned into a warm presence, showing off her beautiful vocals in "Legally Blonde Remix". With another commanding stage presence and perfectly evil and encapsulating rendition of "Blood in the Water", Pesciotta wowed the audience as he played the villain Professor Callahan. I must say, I am in awe that Pesciotta is a high school student yet seems so mature and eloquently portrayed the manipulative shark.
Keeping the show light and airy were the Delta Nu sisters, chiefly portrayed by Mia Avenoso as Serena, Alexis Selvanto as Pilar, and Lexie LaPlate as Margot. This team and the ensemble maintained a wonderful level of energy and really brought the theatre into the setting of the show, and sensationally performing fun numbers like "What You Want" - my favorite number in the show! With that being said, I'd like to give credit to Matteo Marretta for playing Grandmaster Chad, Kyle, and Carlos - all entertaining performances packed in one show!
Although I do name specific performers in this piece, I deeply believe the entire cast should be credited with their incredible energy and dedication brought to this production. I recognized each and everyone onstage was wearing a spirit that made this show as incredible as it was. Stand out team performances being "What You Want", "Whipped Into Shape", "Bend and Snap", "Gay or European?", and "Legally Blonde Remix". Not only that, but even the non-human performances by dogs Otto Iozzi and Sandy Bollinger were just as fabulous!
My only note in regards to the production was that I wish there was more visible substance and design onstage to match the performances and further bring us into the layered fabulous pink world of Elle Woods. This is a minor adjustment though, because I truly believe everything about this show was extremely high-level. With all of that being said, the show would not have been as magnificent without the crew behind the scenes. Huge 'props' goes to the production and technical crew that literally lit up the stage, allowed us to hear the performers, dressed and made us up in the early 2000s, greeted us on our way from the lobby into the Legally Blonde world, and transported us onstage from Delta Nu to Harvard Law School. Your work does not go unnoticed, and the mere fact that students put up these professional productions is awe-inspiring!
PAA did a fabulous job portraying Legally Blonde's message that "Being true to yourself never goes out of style". Congratulations to Doug Bollinger for directing this celebratory piece and so proud of the cast and crew for their amazing run! With that said, I am "Positive" OCVTS: Performing Arts Academy productions are ones you will not want to miss! You can view the school's upcoming showcases on their performance bulletin board by clicking here (OCVTS PAA Bulletin Board). For more information on the OCVTS: Performing Arts Academy please visit OCVTS.org/paa.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Melanie Rocha, OCVTS: Performing Arts Academy