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Review: LEGALLY BLONDE at Centrestage Youth Theatre

Sincere and zany musical starring up-and-coming talent

Review: LEGALLY BLONDE at Centrestage Youth Theatre So many musicals in the last twenty years have been adaptations from movies, that it's difficult to justify the transition to the medium of stage. Fortunately, I had the option of seeing Legally Blonde, produced by Centrestage Youth Theatre, without ever seeing the film. Free from making any comparisons, I could enjoy the show as the cast performed it with a sincerity and energy that made it feel as though the show was always intended for the stage.

For those who haven't seen either the film or the stage production. Legally Blonde tells the story of Elle Woods (Rachel Harding), a college graduate who, expecting her boyfriend, Warner (Joshua Downs), to propose, gets dumped instead. Not handling the rejection well, she concocts a scheme to follow him to Harvard Law school to win a second chance with him. In a plot twist that hasn't surprised anyone since The Wizard of Oz, Elle discovers the determination and critical thinking skills she's had since the opening number make her a deeper and more valuable person than she or anyone else assumed from the start. The plot takes no bold departures from the common tropes of comedy, but that gives Laurence O'Keefe's (Heathers, Bat Boy) score the opportunity to take center stage and drive the narrative. In that sense, Legally Blonde the musical is a lot like driving to the grocery store in an Aston Martin; it's definitely more about enjoying the journey than reaching the destination.

The selection of the show complements the cast Centrestage Youth gathered quite well. Most of the characters are only a few years older than the actors playing them, so the most difficult roles were those of the adults-most of which were silly, melodramatic, and probably better played by actors in their late teens. The most challenging role was that of Professor Callahan, played by Michael Polines. The only dedicated straight man in a cast of cartoons, Callahan required restraint and precision to pull off, which Polines managed quite well. At times, I thought he didn't have the haughty air of a lawyer/professor who probably suffers chronic neck pain from looking down on absolutely everyone in his life, but he certainly channeled the sociopathic spirit required for the number Blood in the Water.

For a comedy, the characters of Elle and her new love interest Emmett (Zane Nathan) are surprisingly nuanced, and both actors follow the ups and downs of these personalities with apparent ease. Nathan's Emmett was charming when he needed to be, supportive when Elle was down, awkward as their relationship grew, and driven and litigious when adopting the mantle of a young legal professional.

I have always considered dance a necessary evil of musical theatre, with many shows using cliched or meaningless movement just to fill space during music. However, I found myself interested in the choreography, and the ensemble pulled off some impressive moves that would put to shame many of the cheer dance lines they attempted to emulate. Early in Act II, Brooke Wyndham's actress, Aimee Steedman leads a jump-rope workout routine while singing, a feat signaling that these performers are up to professional standards.

The night I went was plagued with sound issues, and microphones kept dropping in and out, making it difficult at times to hear soloists. This was my only complaint with the performance, and even I think it's unfair to hold the tech crew to what was likely an equipment malfunction. Usually unnoticed unless there's a problem, the tech crew managed to make subtle contributions to the performance, most notably in moments when actors entered from the aisles, a subtle flick of the follow spot across the stage pulled audience attention to the appropriate parts of the theatre.

The audience was primed to enjoy the show, applauding for various actors' entrances as though they were filming a 1980s sitcom. But that enthusiasm was well warranted. In my three years of living in New Zealand, this was the first time I had seen a show end with a standing ovation. Congratulations, Cetrestage Youth; that ovation was well-earned.

From This Author - Jake La Jeunesse

Jake began his theatre career very young, as the only 8-year-old who could read well enough with a loud voice to narrate his church Christmas pageant. Coming from a town of about 8,000 people, theatre... (read more about this author)

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An impressive cast assembled by Centrestage Youth Theatre incited a standing ovation on their final performance of Legally Blonde. Performers displayed a range of nuance and talent worthy of respect. Review by Jake La Jeunesse