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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.

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Shrek; 9 to 5; Billy Elliot — Broadway Musicals May 10, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre.
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While on a quick weekend trip to NYC this weekend, I had the opportunity to see three top notch musicals, all of them adaptations of movie screenplays…and surprise of surprises not one of them was a clunker — Like The Wedding Singer and Legally Blonde the past few seasons,  Shrek, 9 to 5, and Billy Elliot are all solid adaptations that deserve great audiences and long Broadway runs.

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Lets start with BILLY ELLIOT, THE MUSICAL…I first saw Billy Elliot in London a few seasons ago, a few days before official opening night. I knew that it was going to be an international hit that first viewing, but the Broadway production is even larger, and the cast tighter and more skillful. I had the fortune of seeing Kiril Kulish play Billy Elliot – and his dancing is not fully describable in words; it demands to be seen. Here he is “flying” with his grown up alter-ego (Stephen Hanna).

Billy Elliot Kiril Kulish Stephen HannaBar none, this is absolutely the finest musical currently playing in New York. The audience routinely leaps to its feet to applaud young Billy in the many many many dance numbers – from jazz to ballet to tap. And Kiril is up to all of them. Supported by a top-notch cast this production just soars. Run do not walk to get tickets. The tour isn’t going to look like this. It can’t. The showmanship on display in this huge theatre with it’s huge soaring proscenium arch high above the house can’t be replicated anywhere else. When Billy flies, he truly flies in this theatre — and it is worth every penny. This is one of those shows that is worth flying in to New York for, even if it is the only thing you do while you are there.

For families — absolutely do NOT bring your under 10’s to this show — it is laden with coarse language, adult themes, and region-specific dialogue. It is not at all geared toward children in the audience, and while those preteen and older will be enchanted, it is NOT, repeat NOT a family musical.

My money for the Tony for Best-Just-About-Everything-This-Year gets bet on Billy Elliot — it might even surpass The Producers (and should) for Tony gold.

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At the Broadway Theatre, you’ll find another musical that has settled in for the longrun. SHREK THE MUSICAL is fun, tuneful, colorful, hilarious, and a bit green. There is whiz-bang technical wizardry on stage here, as are some dandy performances (in particular Christopher Sieber and Brian D’Arcy James). I wasn’t sure about this one going in, although friends who had seen it had all mutually agreed that they loved it. Well guess what – it IS that good.

shrek-cp-w5982417shrek2The sets and costumes are colorful and terrifically realized. The lighting design pops. The makeup affects are outstanding. One word of warning, though; just like the original movies on which this musical is based, this is not a musical for Tiny Tots– parents should use discretion when deciding upon a family outing — if you’ve seen the movie and the kids are okay with it, ask yourself will they be okay with those same situations front and center, live and in person.

In a year the Billy Elliot is sure to dominate all of the Tony Awards, Shrek’s nomination for Best Musical is a fit accolade for this superior entertainment. Modern day Music Hall meets Slapstick Comedy and Brian D’Arcy James exquisite and emotional Shrek ties it all into one entertaining night out.

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Finally, I had zero expectations for 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL going into the Marquis Theatre. I was pleasantly surprised by the comic and tuneful performances, and the absolutely amazing set. Allison Janney and Mark Kudish both deserve their well-earned Tony Nominations (for Best Actress and Best Featured Actor), as does Dolly Parton’s songs and lyrics. Country pop lives on Broadway!

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The script is virtually intact from the 1979 movie, with the same jokes and the same punchlines — even the goofy “stealing the body in the hospital” sequence. But you expect no less.

What the real revelation here is the set, and I have to say as a Director and as a Set Designer, this technical team’s omission from the Tony Awards borders on criminal. Future generations will look back at this musical (and they WILL look back – as this is sure to be performed by every high school and community theatre from Peoria to Eureka in future years to come) as the groundbreaking set design that finally integrated both a standard fly system and video screen with the newest trend: popup scenery that rises from lifts in the stage — not just platforms, entire set pieces. It is so well done here that the motion never stops — the set and choreography so intricately integrated that you fear the performers will disappear into holes in the floor — yet there they are, fresh and perky throughout as massive pieces of wall, columns, and ceilings swing and move and rotate and assemble and reassemble and put you in an entirely new location within seconds. This set design is one of the most superior I have seen in a musical probably ever. TONY COMMITTEE TAKE NOTE: YOU HAVE MADE A GRAVE MISTAKE IN THIS OMISSION.

Oh, and Allison Janney is all that and a cup of milk. Not a singer, not a dancer, she sings and dances well and brings comic timing and stage presence to the Lily Tomlin role throughout the evening. Marc Kudish deserves his Tony nomination as well for his over-the-top performance, as well as his willingness to play foil to the three ladies of the office as he gets roped, tied, hung, flung, flown in, flown out, dressed to the nines, stripped to boxers, and still look like he is having the absolute time of his life.

All three of these shows will have long healthy runs on Broadway. None of them will look the same on tour  and are all worth seeing in New York. Billy Elliot is designed to tug at your heart and make you cry (and you will – over and over throughout the evening). Shrek unexpectedly brings a tear or two (Hey, Let Your Freak Flag Fly cast!!!) and 9 to 5 will wow you with sheer entertainment and technical wizardry beyond anything seen on the Broadway Stage to date.

A couple subtle notes: Encore Musical Theatre (Dexter) bigwig DAN COONEY plays Dick in 9 to 5. He’s fine in an important but small role. University of Michigan graduate Jeremy Davis gets to have fun in the show as well.

Support Broadway, our actors, directors, musicians and stage designers and technicians. GO SEE A LIVE SHOW.