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Energetic, colorful Legally Blonde The Musical at Center Stage Jackson (Review) June 24, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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The third of eleven local productions of Legally Blonde the Musical in the SE Michigan area came by way of Center Stage Jackson at the lovely Potter Center Baughmann Theatre.

This production was a very solid community theater production, with an energetic cast, some great voices, and a fast-paced production that was colorful and funny. Very good performances were turned in by Mary Krzesicki as Elle Woods; Adam Woolsey (Warner); Chip Mezo (Emmet); Timm Richardson (Professor Callahan); and Lisa Ykimoff (Paulette). M0st supporting roles were well-played, with some exceptions. The women’s ensemble was top-notch (if too young for some of the “kids” who were supposed to be in college); but a bit raggedy in the men’s ensemble — with some downright terrible thrown in there as well (in particular some of the younger cast members who were called on to play adults). ¬†Legally Blonde, like Annie, is a show that revolves around the younger folks, but it still requires a strong adult ensemble to back it all up. Not so much here.

The production was consistently high quality, with kudos to set designer Chris Fultz. Sound and lighting were also solid, and the costumes appropriate and colorful. I look forward to seeing future works by Center Stage Jackson, based on this very good community theater production. I would ask you to check them out as well — although I was able to only attend the last performance of Legally Blonde, so you’ll have to see what they have in store for next season at centerstagejackson.org

One final note: this is the first time that I have seen the use of The MT Pit musical recordings for a production. This is a company that records real orchestra tracks (not midi’s or reduced orchestrations) upon a company’s proof of paying the royalties and payment for the full orchestrations of the show. Instead of a live orchestra in the pit, the recorded tracks are played and sound-mixed with live voices on stage. The result was quite remarkable — it allows for the cranking of volume when needed, and decreasing volume where necessary to allow the vocalists to be heard. Don’t get me wrong, I will always opt for a real orchestra with live performers in the pit, and would never personally direct a musical without a live pit orchestra — that is what makes musical theater what it is — but for some community theater groups and high schools where this is not an option due to facility limitations; musician limitations, etc, this is a great option. In essence, you get a full orchestra without the physical players in the pit. It doesn’t save costs, though, as you still pay for the live orchestra recording, only those musicians were in LA, not in Jackson. I do not know what reasons Center Stage Jackson had to use the tracks, but it worked for this production.

Marlena Hilderley’s Elle Woods is superb in Legally Blonde (Croswell Opera House) – Review June 17, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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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.

Legally Blonde, The Musical — Tour, Detroit October 20, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Detroit, Entertainment, Theatre.
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Legally Blonde, the musical, as any 13-year old girl knows, is the girl-power Broadway show that tells the tale of Elle Woods trip to Harvard Law School, initially to follow her ex-boyfriend, and ultimately to find success as a lawyer, find new love, and save the day for a former sorority sister accused of murder. I mention the 13-year old girls, because the Broadway Production was televised on MTV continuously for about three months last year, creating it’s own super-buzz and following. The tour now stops at the Fisher Theatre — and it’s good.

It’s easy to dismiss this entertaining musical — but sit in the theatre for a live presentation for a few hours and you will find yourself completely delighted by the show and its infectious energy and music.

ElleBecky Gulsvig as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, the Musical. Photo courtesy Broadway in Detroit.

Seen in a matinee performance filled with screaming 13-year old girls (continuing the nauseating trend started with Wicked and it’s screaming-fan audience after every song) Becky Gulsvig appears to be having the time of her life, and the energetic and talented cast exudes charisma. The screaming was there at the Palace Theatre too, by the way, when I saw the show in NYC. It’s a loud show — and not in an appropriate way: the kids talk during the show, eat candy, tear open bags of treats, and act like they are at a movie theatre. You will most likely fare better at an evening performance when the 13-year olds (and their 9 year old sisters) are at home in bed.

For those who have seen the Broadway production, there are a few minor set changes but the production is generally intact…but Jerry Mitchell’s highly energetic directing/choreography work well at the Fisher, and the show is really quite fun.

There isn’t much to think about on the way out the door, but it’s an entertaining piece of musical theatre that fares much better than a lot of movies-turned-into-musicals — and look out when this show is released for amateur production — every high school, college, and community theatre will be jumping on this one: a pop-rock score with enough roles for girls, and its guaranteed amateur theatre overkill. See it now with a professional cast and production values and it’s a show you can genuinely call charming. See it next year at your daughter’s high school and not so much.

Recommended, and better than you would think.