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American Theatre Guild brings Legally Blonde The Musical to Thousand Oaks for four short but delightful days this weekend. Based on the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon, the 2007 musical with a book by Heather Hach and music/lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin follows Elle Woods (Maris McCulley) as she follows her “love” Warner Huntington III (James Oblak) from sunny Malibu to Harvard Law School with the hopes of winning him back. But what she really wins is a new self respect and approach to life. This show is really a show for us to enjoy with our girlfriends (don’t worry guys, you’ll be sure to get a kick out of the show too!) as we embrace feminine relationships as they are highlighted by Hach’s book.
There were several changes made between the 2001 movie and 2007 musical including the removal of Holland Taylor’s role as a strict no-nonsense professor. Vivienne Kensington (Berlande Millus) sees her role evolve from Elle’s competition to her champion in the dynamic and toe tapping “Legally Blonde Remix”. Paulette (Jill Taylor Anthony), the hilarious hairdresser, still wins Kyle the UPS Guy (Dorian Quinn) in the end but also gets to belt her way through “Ireland” to express her romantic dreams and disappointments that likely echo true to many women and men in the audience. There’s also a charming Greek Chorus made up of Elle’s best friends from UCLA (Andee Buccheri, CHelsea Lorraine Wargo, Kayla Jenerson). The strongest change made was to strengthen the relationship between Elle and Emmett (Woody Minshew). The movie failed to develop their relationship but in the musical now Emmett is Elle’s champion and unofficial tutor but Elle reciprocates in her own way by making Emmett “Take It Like A Man” in order to stay in Professor Callahan’s (Chris Carsten) good graces.
Several changes have transpired since 2007 including modern jokes. For instance, now instead of Days of Our Lives, Bruiser loves Game of Thrones. Also there is a great joke and reference to President Trump in Act Two when ** SPOILER ** Brooke Wyndham (Megan Hoxie) fires Callahan that got a great reaction from the crowd.
The big changes though in the 2019 non equity tour have to do with set design, the use of projections in lieu of set backgrounds, and the sound design. As the musical’s trailer illustrates, the 2019 non equity tour uses projections to replace nearly all the original sets making for a minimal stage. Gone are the Delta Nu House windows that the sorority sisters pop out of in the opening number. And there are now emojis and moving projections of UPS vans, etc. on constant display in the background although strangely the iconic Tiffany & Co. necklace is no longer projected before the show and during intermission. I am not convinced if this is a positive or not. Act Two’s opening number “Whipped Into Shape” makes good use of Jonathan Infante‘s new projections/video design and Elle and Warner’s heartbreaking eleven o’clock duet “Legally Blonde” puts to good use the bare stage. The sound design changes were sadly for the worse. For some unknown reason Steve Rogers (Sound Design) has decided to amplify the voices of the Greek Chorus – probably with the intent of reminding the audience that they are a figment of Elle’s imagination – and it is a bit too much and distracting. And unfortunately Derek Lockwood (Costume Design) has ditched the adorable “Elle Woods” sweatshirts during “So Much Better”.
Leading lady Maris McCulley holds her own vocally but there is nothing different in her performance from say Laura Bell Bundy or Becky Gulsvig. The show belongs to the company as a whole with strong performances from the ensemble who double and triple in multiple roles. Highlights amongst the leading cast are a lovable and adorable Woody Minshew (Emmett Forrest) and hilarious Jill Taylor Anthony (Paulette Bonafonte). Kuddos to Berlande Millus for giving the most original performance as Vivienne Kensington compared to original performer Kate Shindle, making Vivienne feisty and allowing for a strong transformation in the finale. The biggest highlight for me was a stunning Megan Hoxie (Brooke Wyndham/Whitney/Mom) who could easily rival equity leading ladies Nikki Snelson (Broadway), Coleen Sexton (National Tour), and Aoife Mulholland (West End).
After seeing both The West End production starring a fabulous Sheridan Smith and a charming youth theatre production (Young Artists Ensemble), I can truthfully say you are going to enjoy this energetic and delightful non equity tour in Thousand Oaks this weekend before it closes. Strong performances from all make for a great night out with the girls.
One very random aside – what happened to Elle’s mother (Megan Hoxie) in the finale? Suddenly she was gone and Elle’s father (J Ryan Carroll) is flirting with Brooke (Megan Hoxie). Yes I know it is the same actress but it looks really weird and random.
American Theatre Guild Next Presents… The Book of Mormon (July 9-14, 2019).
Disclaimer: I had my ticket comped for review purposes but all opinions are my own.