Marlena Hilderley’s Elle Woods is superb in Legally Blonde (Croswell Opera House) – Review

It seems you can’t turn a corner without running into Legally Blonde The Musical this summer/fall in Michigan — in fact, there are 11 productions slated in just a 30 mile radius of each other, several of them playing on the same weekend. But it would be hard to find a better Elle Woods than Marlena Hilderley in Croswell Opera House’s current production.

Uncanny resemblance to Paris Hilton aside, Hilderley grows the character from sorority girl to lawyer with believability, and singing chops to spare, which is a good thing since she is onstage nearly the entire performance. Even more surpisingly, if you have seen the Broadway production, or the tour, or the MTV airings ad-nauseum of the Broadway production, Hilderley (who is still studying theater and voice at Michigan) gives any of the professional Elle’s a run for their money.

Nicely matched here is Natasha Ricketts’ Paulette, whose “Ireland” brings down the house in the show’s second funniest number (the funniest is “Gay or European”, though not apparently to the elderly couple who sat next to me). She has acting and singing skills that help her convey both loud and intimate, sometimes at the same time. Also superb is Darin DeWeese as Emmett. The ensemble is strong throughout (although there were missed dance steps by some at Sunday’s performance); although there are also a couple glaring miscasts: one involving a male who can sing but not act (and who has zero chemistry with Hilderley), and one involving a fine actor with weak vocal support (turning one of the better-written Act I songs into not much of anything).

Jen Letherer directs a fast-paced comic-driven production that has few gaps, and a strong sense of heart. Dave Rains’ orchestra sounds great, and his musical direction is excellent — the diction and tone are very good in this cast, even if they at times are overwhelmed by the orchestra (particularly in large ensemble numbers).

The set by Justin Lang is serviceable, and projections are fine throughout. One really great gimmick is the scrolling Facebook page pre-show and intermission…Elle has 2698 Friends on Facebook!  Lighting is generally good. The costumes by Natalie Kissinger are hit-and-miss; her designs for the women look great — the designs for the men are another story altogether, and particularly glaring is a suit for Warren early in the show which makes him look neither handsome nor manly.

Overall, this is a great production at the Croswell Opera House. Also coming down the pike are the student version of Les Miserables (with countless high school kids) and 7 Brides for 7 Brothers. Legally Blonde continues through next weekend.

%d bloggers like this: