BWW Review: SMT's LEGALLY BLONDE Could Be 'So Much Better'
Recently (and I do mean recently) another company in town did a concert staging of "Legally Blonde" utilizing actors of color in roles that they might not normally be cast including an African American "Elle". So, I questioned the logic when I heard that Seattle Musical Theater was doing the same thing right on its heels. Sure, the other one was just a concert (although so well done that it felt like a full staging) and only for four performances so maybe they just want to capitalize on that momentum with a full staging with sets and costumes and everything. Unfortunately, the Seattle Musical Theatre production of "Legally Blonde" feels so misdirected, half-assed and underdone that the only similarities are the diversity in the casting and the name.
This time it's Jadyn Muralt as Elle Woods, that plucky Malibu blonde who follows her ex-boyfriend Warner (Fune Tuatala) to Harvard Law School to convince him that he should take her back and along the way finds that she's more than a match for him and Harvard. And while there's some talent in the cast (some of whom were in the aforementioned concert) they're in a show that doesn't know what to do with them.
The first impression is from the set from Parmida Ziaei that's at best, clunky, and at worst, ever present and confusing. They have two main pieces, the Delta Nu house, all pastels with a big "Delta Nu" painted on it and a platform with a giant flag bearing an "H" for Harvard. The rest of the set pieces are just tables and chairs which are brought on and off during interminable scene changes and always visible stacked up just off stage. The big problem is, once we see those two big set pieces they never leave the stage so whether we're at the nail salon or in the courtroom or in Elle's dorm room we're always at Delta N'arvard. The second impression are the costumes from Janelle Kimbrough which never feel as glamorous as they should, just thrown together and pulled from people's closets. Now I know small theaters have no budgets but much of this was just embarrassing from Elle's tear-away dress that looked like it was begging to be torn away the instant you saw it to the overly cartoonish mustache on Niko in the courtroom.
And speaking of that tear-away dress, let's discuss the choreography from Mackenzie Neusiok. Any choreography should tell a story in the scene. Here it was just a mish mash of (to borrow a phrase from the show) "ethnic movement" with no one in unison. And the dress? If you're going to do an on stage quick change by showing one pink dress on a hangar that you're supposedly putting on the person, surrounding them and tearing away their overdress to reveal the same pink dress they are wearing underneath then don't use so much Velcro that the microphones pick up a gigantic "rip" on the tear and don't then have the ensemble do the remaining dance number waving around pieces of the tear-away dress and the decoy pink dress. You know, the one she's supposedly wearing?! I could go on but it all boils down to the lack of direction from Megan Brewer who constantly put people upstage in scenes to be blocked by other groups and had so many bits and gags going on around the stage, none of which ever found their crescendo or button.
As I said there were some talented people in the show. Muralt has a great voice but never really connected with anyone. No one in the show really did, as they were all waiting for their next moment. John Han as Elle's eventual love interest Emmett also has some killer pipes but was flat as a person and needed to figure out what character he wanted to play. Eric Hartley as the slimy Professor Callahan was slimy enough but felt like he was pushing to connect. Kristie (Kiki) Werner as the nail guru Paulette had a great voice when we could hear her but had a habit of mumbling her punch lines. But then the microphones weren't doing anyone any favors as they would turn on and off at odd times. How about we just learn to project? Really the best in the show, other than Muralt, were Tuatala as Warner and Merideth Kirry as Brooke Wyndham. Why, good voices, sure, but they also managed to find a character and commit.
All in all, if you missed the concert or were looking for a fuller staging of the show to satisfy that itch, this is not the show to do that. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Seattle Musical Theatre's production of "Legally Blonde" an Omigod NAH. It just wasn't up to snuff.
"Legally Blonde" performs at Seattle Musical Theatre through October 28th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlemusicaltheatre.org.