Summertime is in full swing and that means musicals! Stages St Louis and the MUN Y both do musicals all summer long, giving St Louis audiences tapping toes and entertaining ear worms. Last week, Stages opened their newest offering, Legally Blonde, the 2007 stage play based on a novel by Amanda Brown and the wildly popular movie starring Reese Witherspoon. Yes, it’s a play about a Malibu Barbie who wants to go to Harvard to prove to her boyfriend she is “serious.” Mostly, however, it’s a frothy delight that reminds us to be true to our own selves and the entire show spins on the talents of the actor playing Elle Woods.
Michelle London is an enchanting Elle. She mixes the sweet, bubbliness of Witherspoon’s Elle with her own mature, sometimes mischievous, smile and sexiness. It’s easy to let this role dominate the show but her greatest skill as an actor is the way she gracefully and graciously shares the stage and allows others to shine as bright. London, indeed the entire cast, work effortlessly together and it looks as if they are having a wonderful time. And because they are, we do too.
Some of the numbers are catchy and fun. The number that starts the show, “Omigod You Guys” is one of my favorites. The sisters of Delta Nu really rock the opening number and set the tone for the show. I had no idea a sorority could be so much fun. The ladies are led with great style by Elle’s three best friends, Margot, Serena and Pilar (Melinda Cowan, Julia Johanos and Sarah Rolleston.) Rusty Mowery gave the gals some delightful choreography and James Wolk and Matthew McCarthy’s electric set add flair. It’s a brilliant number. Another hysterical, wonderfully politically incorrect number comes in the second act called “There! Right There!” but should be titled “Gay? Or European?” Indeed, I had a hard time finding it in the program because I did think that was the name.
Heather Jane Rolff plays Paulette , Elle’s go-to gal for mani-pedi “retail therapy.” She ends up benefitting the most from Elle’s exuberant optimism, reclaiming her dog, her confidence and winning a sexy, Irish prize in the form of Kyle, played with strutting aplomb by Scott Guthrie. Rolff is exceptional in the role and would steal the scene if it weren’t already being so amiably communal in London’s adept hands. She sings beautifully the ballad, “Ireland,” another of the songs I really enjoyed.
Ben Nordstrom, one of St Louis’ favorite sons, usually plays enthusiastic roles which allow his ebullient nature to shine. He makes the character of Emmett Forrest very likable, and his chemistry with London is pronounced, but he seems a little wasted in such a button-down role. The songs he sings are not stellar, in particular “Chip on My Shoulder” of which I only enjoyed the last few minutes when he breaks out in dance with the “Greek Chorus.” “Take It Like a Man” is only slightly better, mostly because of the chemistry he and London share, not the song itself. (And while I’m on the few things that need criticism, the wigs in the show are terrible.)
Kudos go to Dave Schmittou, playing the earnestly slimy Professor Callahan, Katie Tibbets, who makes the role of Enid Hoopes fresh and charming and Pamela Reckamp in her role as the judge; lovely work done by all. The entire cast deserves more praise than space allows for the beautiful work they do as an ensemble and for working with not one but two dogs onstage.
Legally Blonde continues at the Robert G Reim Theatre at Kirkwood’s Civic Center through August 18th. Even with this gorgeous weather, it’s worth the time indoors.