BWW Reviews: McLean Community Players' High-Energy LEGALLY BLONDE Opens Tonight, 7/16
Bend and snap your way to Northern Virginia for LEGALLY BLONDE - THE MUSICAL now playing at the Alden Theatre through July 29. Presented by the McLean Community Players, the high-energy of the cast and charming performance of Kate Merryman as Elle Woods are reason enough to check out this production at the McLean Community Center.
Elle Woods is a fashion-loving, Delta Nu sorority sister with a perfect boyfriend. As she prepares for him to pop the marriage question, he bursts her pink bubble by dumping her, as he heads off to Harvard Law School. Elle decides she can win him back and prove she is worthy if she follows him to Harvard. Along the way, Elle gains acceptance into Harvard, works her first court case, and finds her own worth.
Sound familiar? It should come as no surprise that the musical is based on the 2001 film LEGALLY BLONDE, following a spate of Broadway musicals taken from Hollywood hits. The movie was driven by Reese Witherspoon’s perky performance as Elle. For the McLean production, Kate Merryman is Elle, and not only does she look the part of a blonde sorority sister, she is an impressive singing-actress. Her performance is a good sign of an up-and-coming talent in whom her music professors at George Mason University should be proud.
Although anchored by Merryman’s Elle, the entire cast is boiling over with energy, especially Elle’s sorority sisters. Margaret Berkowitz (Margot), Courtney Drake (Serena), and Kim Braswell (Pilar) nearly explode with girly-girl power, sassy dance moves, and great vocals. When the Delta Nu sorority sisters become Elle’s personal Greek chorus – after all, losing a hot boyfriend is a tragedy – they add some hilarious comic relief.
As the two men in Elle’s life, Mark Gray-Mendes and Matthew Lincoln-Bugg make a good impression in their respective roles as the old boyfriend and the new. Exuding the proper amount of confidence and swagger, Gray-Mendes is the self-absorbed Warner, the reason she heads to Harvard. Elle meets third year law student Emmett, Warner’s polar opposite. Quietly romantic, Lincoln-Bugg captures the sensitive side of Emmett and his growing chemistry with Merryman is nice to watch.
Other outstanding cast members include Toby Nelson as Paulette, a flashy hairdresser. Nelson is a natural comic and a powerful vocalist. Paul Tonden is the pompous law professor who tries get too close to Elle during her internship. Stephanie Brown is the snooty Vivienne, Elle’s rival for Warner, and Rebecca Clary is a fitness guru who becomes Elle’s first court case.
Following the old adage “there are no small parts” in the theatre, Adam Newland has a few scenes, but he makes quite an impression delivering packages to Paulette. (If you read an innuendo into that, you are correct.) Other scene stealing cameos are by Shoskie and Sir Gordo, two canine performers, who play Elle and Paulette’s furry family members.
Behind the scenes, Chris Dore and Kathleen McCormack pull out all the stops with dynamic choreography which is handled skillfully by the ensemble. The music department, under the direction of Walter McCoy, has a crisp sound and gives solid support for the singing actors. Sound design is by Jon Roberts. (Some balance issues on opening night will surely be worked out as the performances settle in.)
Director Mike Replogle keeps the entire production together with a keen eye for quick-pacing and uses the Alden stage to great advantage. The set design by Bill Brown, along with the work of lighting designer Jeff Auerbach, is effective and allows for the cast to move seamlessly from scene to scene. The costume designs of Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword accent the youthful cast with a sense of humor and style.
The musical is very faithful to the spirit of the movie, with a book by Heather Hach. The serviceable songs by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin would be at home on television's GLEE, but you won’t be humming most of them once you leave the theatre. “So Much Better” – one of the few “take-home” songs – closes the first act and is a nice showcase for Elle and the ensemble. For sexy fun and clever lyrics, “Bend and Snap” is also a crowd-pleaser.
Speaking of the crowd, based on the buzz in the lobby, I would say that performances are filling up fast.
Parental Note: For LEGALLY BLONDE - THE MUSICAL, think PG-13, due to MTV style dances and some adult humor.
Photo Credits: TRACI J. BROOKS