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'Legally Blonde' is seriously fun PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor   
Thursday, 24 April 2014 10:37
Emmett (performed by Eric Batts) turns the tassle on Elle Woods (performed by Tader Shipley) during a scene in BGSU's production of Legally Blonde. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Some theatergoers may find it easy to dismiss "Legally Blonde" just like the show's characters dismiss its heroine Elle Woods.
As the doubters learn though they underestimate this blond bombshell at their own risk.
The university production of "Legally Blonde: The Musical" wraps its message of empowerment in gleeful fluff, setting up show business archetypes with burst of energy only to knock them down with an equal amount of foot-stomping enthusiasm.
"Legally Blonde," based on the 2001 movie, opens tonight at 8 p.m. in the Donnell Theatre in the Wolfe Center for the Arts on the Bowling Green State University campus. It continues with 8 p.m. shows Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday.
The show, directed by Michael Ellison, draws the audience in with its charm. And that starts with Tader Shipley as Elle. She's a over-caffeinated bundle of energy, bristling with anticipation when we first meet her because she expects her dreamy boyfriend Warner (Nicholas Gordon) to propose.
That necessitates a trip to buy a new dress accompanied by her Greek chorus of sorority sisters, who advise its no time to economize. This is a big moment with a ring in the offing.
Except it doesn't go as planned.  Instead Warner, who's heading to Harvard Law School,  breaks up with her. As an aspiring U.S. senator he needs someone more like Jackie Kennedy than Marilyn Monroe.
Elle is devastated until se decides that she will win back Warner by following him to Harvard Law.
The plot is carried mostly in song, and the cast does an good job of enunciating the punchlines set to melody.
The songs by  Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin are tuneful, danceable and full of witty rhymes - "Hobbes," as in the political philosopher, with "snobs," and "Harvard" with "stripper bar."
Those come from "Blood in the Water," one of several show-stopping numbers. Geoff Stephenson as Callahan  delivers the legal lecture "Blood" with cold-blooded charm. The legal world, he informs his students, is divided into sharks and chum, and he's the alpha shark.
Elle would seem ripe to be chum, but she persists and her efforts are supported by Callahan's teaching assistant Emmett (Eric Batts). He urges her to cultivate the "Chip on the Shoulder" she needs to stand up for herself.
All this plays out in a make-believe world where cheerleaders and a belief in love gains you admission to Harvard Law and where a trial turns on a knowledge of flirting techniques and hair care.
Yet the way it upends the stereotypes makes it far more than an air-headed romp, just as Elle shows she's more than a blonde bombshell.
The show includes a subplot about the hairdresser Paulette (Leah Gesouras) that tackles emotional abuse in a way at once light-hearted, but not dismissive. Gesouras delivers the faux romantic ballad "Ireland" in a big, yearning voice that belies her character's vulnerability.
Helping Paulette gives Elle her first sense that the law may be about more than getting back her boyfriend. As Elle starts to realize her own depths, Shipley makes sure she retains her effervescence. Even when Elle is at her lowest point, the audience never doubts that she'll spring right back.
Shipley's energy is amazing. She's on stage almost constantly, stepping off only long enough for one of her many costume changes, a couple of which take place discretely on stage. She even holds her own with her canine co-star Nugget playing Elle's dog Bruiser. The dog's a ham as was evident on the preview night when several of her scenes were repeated to give the canine thespian more time to get used to being on stage in front of an adoring audience. Nugget lapped it up. Rufus as Paulette's dog Kit seemed less impressed by the chorus of ahs that greeted her.
The human cast is stellar. Hannah Berry plays Warner's snobbish preppy new girlfriend Vivienne a striking contrast to the unbounded energy of sorority sisters  Madison Zavitz, Micala Bahrens and Mariah Burks.
They help draw the audience into this enthralling show.

In motion
What: “Legally Blonde”
Who: BGSU Department of Theatre & Film
When: Tonight through Sunday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.
Where: Donnell Theatre in the BGSU Wolfe Center for the Arts.
How much: Tickets range from $12 to $1.75 for BGSU students at www.bgsu.edu/arts or 419-372-8171.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 07:22

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