Theater / Film

Review: ‘Legally Blonde’ rules the Actors’ Playhouse stage

Written By Christine Dolen
February 4, 2024 at 10:04 PM

  Becca Andrews as Elle Woods and the ensemble in the Actors’ Playhouse production of “Legally Blonde the Musical” at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables through Sunday, Feb. 25. (Photo courtesy of Gregory F Reed)

The opening number is titled “Omigod You Guys,” sung with enough effervescent peppiness to power the next moon mission.  A host of sorority hotties performs it dancing on a set which features pink “ironwork” containing silhouette images of a Barbie-style ponytailed gal.

So you know, don’t you guys, that you’re either at an as-yet-unwritten “Barbie” musical or watching a production of “Legally Blonde the Musical.”

Jessica Brooke Sanford, Hana Slevin, Stephanie White, Becca Andrews, Heather Jane Rolff and Michael Dean Morgan in “Legally Blonde the Musical” at Actors’ Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Gregory F Reed, MFA)

Visit Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables and you’ll discover the latter.  Through Sunday, Feb. 25, the Main Stage at the Miracle Theatre belongs to Becca Andrews as Elle Woods, Stephen Christopher Anthony as Emmett Forrest, almost two dozen more talented humans, and a pair of well-schooled canines playing Bruiser and Rufus.

Based on the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon as the SoCal Delta Nu sorority president who pursues her ex-boyfriend all the way to Harvard Law School, the 2007 Broadway version of the story was previously produced by Slow Burn Theatre at the Broward Center at the end of 2018.

Just over five years later, Actors’ Playhouse artistic director David Arisco has made “Legally Blonde the Musical” the big-budget centerpiece of the company’s season.  In the interim, COVID-19 and the 2020 election happened, as did a whole lot of world chaos.  So it’s an escapist relief to welcome back Elle Woods in her transformative, stereotype-busting story.

Becca Andrews as Elle Woods holds Cha Cha as her best pal Bruiser while, from left, Stephen Christopher Anthony, AJ Cola and Diego Klock-Pérez consider the new addition to Harvard Law in “Legally Blonde the Musical” at Actors’ Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Gregory F Reed, MFA)

With a clever book by Heather Hach and a stylistically varied score by Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe, “Legally Blonde the Musical” preserves big moments from the movie original while cutting or consolidating some material to make room for the songs.

You’ll see Elle (Andrews) taking her pink-forward décor and fashion to hallowed Harvard.  Of course she teaches her tongue-tied friend Paulette (Heather Jane Rolff) her surefire “Bend and Snap” maneuver so her pal can seal the deal with the clearly interested UPS delivery guy Kyle (Diego Klock-Pérez).  The egotistical Professor Callahan (Michael Dean Morgan) hits on Elle a little harder than in the movie, but the sympathetic witness this time is Vivienne Kensington (Hana Slevin), the bride-to-be of  Elle’s judgmental ex Warner Huntington III (Alexander Zenoz).

But as fun and frothy as “Legally Blonde the Musical” can be – and it is – the musical gives Elle a bit more depth than her movie predecessor.

Stephen Christopher Anthony as Emmett Forrest and Becca Andrews as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde the Musical” at Actors’ Playhouse at Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Gregory F Reed)

Some of that flows from Andrews, who also played Elle for Slow Burn and in four other productions. Even when she’s called upon to be Elle-as-beautiful-blonde (in her high-kicking personal Harvard “essay” with cheerleaders and marching band, or when she’s tricked into wearing a pale pink Playboy Bunny getup to a non-costume party), Andrews remains a smart and believable woman, not a caricature.

She also has a powerful pop voice, one that can also convey plaintive yearning as she sings the most beautiful duet on the title song with Anthony.  The latter, a New World School of the Arts high school alum, has seen his career take off with starring roles in Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen” and the touring “Catch Me If You Can.”  You can see – and hear – why in “Legally Blonde the Musical” with his stellar vocals and understated yet pitch-perfect comic timing.

Among the standouts in the large cast are Rolff as Paulette, warmer and less eccentric than Jennifer Coolidge was in the movie; Zenoz, effective as Elle’s smiling, ruthlessly ambitious Warren (his duet with Andrews on “Serious”  is an upbeat heartbreaker); Morgan as the ruthless Callahan; Slevin as the (somewhat) kinder, gentler Vivienne; Stephanie White as fitness queen and murder suspect Brooke Wyndham; Jessica Sanford as Elle’s activist classmate Enid; David Nick Alaya as the sarcastic pool boy; and Camryn Handler as Serena, Nicolette Hernandez as Margot and Whitney Renee as Pilar, Elle’s very own Greek chorus.

Becca Andrews as Elle Woods watches as Heather Jane Rolff’s Paulette sees something she likes in Diego Klock-Pérez as Kyle the UPS guy in “Legally Blonde the Musical.” (Photo courtesy of Gregory F Reed)

Also mega-props to Klock-Pérez and choreographer-associate director Sarah Crane for offering a different take on Kyle.  This UPS guy is no heart-melting hunk.  He’s as loose as a Slinky, twisting, turning, posing, provoking and earning every laugh.

As Elle’s beloved chihuahua Bruiser Woods and Paulette’s goofy bulldog Rufus, Cha Cha (Bruiser) and Tony (Rufus) get oohs and aahs (and treats) whenever they show up on stage.

Kudos to Actors’ Playhouse for using a live eight-piece band under the musical direction of Nick Guerrero. That doesn’t always happen at South Florida theaters, but the give-and-take with the actor-singers does make a difference.

Stephanie White as fitness queen Brooke Wyndham, center, demonstrates her tough-love style in “Legally Blonde the Musical” at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Gregory F Reed, MFA)

Brandon Newton’s set, of necessity, has to morph into many locations.  The two-level Delta Nu house is on a turntable, so it can revolve to reveal the restaurant where Warner crushes Elle’s life plan, the chic Boston shop where Elle transforms Emmett from a rumpled corduroy kind of guy into a GQ type, the beauty shop where Paulette does nails, the courtroom where Brooke is on trial for her wealthy older husband’s murder.  Velvet curtains hang at either side of the centerstage set, so when the actors dash backstage to make a costume change, you can see the next set pieces waiting for their entrance. Awkward.

Michael Dean Morgan as the ruthless Professor Callahan advises his law students to seek “blood in the water” in “Legally Blonde the Musical” at Actors’ Playhouse.” (Photo courtesy of Gregory F Reed, MFA)

Eric Nelson’s lighting is first rate, as are Reidar Sorensen’s sound design, Jodi Dellaventura’s props and set dressing, and Ellis Tillman’s huge array of costumes, pink and otherwise.

Arisco and Crane, here infusing her choreography with a spirit as bubbly as the Delta Nu sisters, have brought back Elle and company with joyous finesse.  Some of the obviously adult references aren’t great for younger kids – though the double entendres will likely go over their heads – because “Legally Blonde the Musical” isn’t an all-ages “Barbie” movie.  But it’s absolutely worth a visit or revisit.

WHAT: “Legally Blonde the Musical” 

WHERE: Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables

WHEN:  8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday (additional matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3; Wednesday, Feb. 7, and Saturday, Feb. 10), through Feb. 25

COST: $40, $55, $65, $75, $85; seniors 65 and over get 10 percent off weekdays only, students with valid student ID pay $15 for a rush ticket available 15 minutes before a weekday performance

INFORMATION: 305-444-9293 or actorsplayhouse.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com. 

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