Sunday, September 16, 2012

Forgivably Flawed, Infectiously Funny

Forgivably Flawed, Infectiously Funny

By Tom Wachunas

    One could make a compelling case for seeing the Canton Players Guild production of Legally Blonde: The Musical (2007 Broadway production based on the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon, original novel by Amanda Brown) as a good example of the whole being greater than its parts. To wit, the singing, particularly in some important supporting roles, is far from pitch perfect.

    I’m willing to stipulate that the guilty parties – those with perhaps limited vocal training or experience with live orchestras - give it their best shot, and could to some degree claim mitigating circumstances beyond just opening night jitters.

    Among those circumstances could be the uneven volume balance between singers and the otherwise excellent nine-piece orchestra under conductor/keyboardist Steve Parsons. In more than a few instances, the musical arrangements overpower the vocalists and too many lyrics get lost. It is worth noting that this musical isn’t all that memorable for its songs per se (music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin). While some are certainly engaging for their snappy pop flavoring, clever wordplay and satirical wit, none of the songs distinguishes itself as really iconic or groundbreaking. Think of it as the difference between prime rib and a fluffy omelette. As things are, maybe the singers here can’t hear themselves enough. The result is that melodies can seem lost in a search for the right note.

    You’d think that flaws of this nature might make any musical crash and burn. Call it a counter-intuitive phenomenon, then, but this briskly paced production, directed by Craig Joseph (with a cast of 28 performers, an accompanying six-member vocal ensemble and two achingly adorable dogs), soars above its potentially deadly shortcomings with indefatigable panache.

    Much of the wholly infectious energy of the story is generated by the central character of Elle Woods, a jilted, bubbly blonde sorority president who chases her ex- boyfriend all the way from L.A. to Cambridge, where she hopes to earn her Harvard Law School degree and win him back. As Elle, Taylor Scott brings new meaning to ‘perky’. Appearing in every scene, we watch as she deftly comes to prove she’s a lot smarter (she won’t settle for being a trophy wife), self-assured and more compassionate than her superficially ditzy demeanor would indicate. Throughout, Scott’s voice is infused with a crystalline girlishness that can convey powerfully effervescent confidence. She can also project convincing vulnerability, as evidenced in the show’s sweetly plaintive title song.

    Wes Morales plays the moneyed, pedigreed and ambitious ex-beau, Warner, with just the right touch of self-absorbed judgementalism and cockiness. He dumps Elle because he thinks she’s too much Marilyn and not enough Jackie.  Countering that is Scott Miese as Elle’s tender-hearted law school mentor, Emmett, who eventually wins her affections. While both Morales and Miese bring genuine credibility to their roles, as singers both are mis-matched to Taylor Scott’s more penetrating sonority.  

     At one point in Act I, Elle befriends Paulette, an outspoken, street-wise beauty salon owner with an unreasonable penchant for (and terrible track record with) Irish men. In her role of Paulette, the versatile and electrifying Lisa Belopotosky Knight fuels some of the show’s most delightfully raucous scenes. Among those are her show-stopping solo performance of Ireland and her funny contortions in Bend and Snap. Gut- splitting in every sense of the word. More shenanigans ensue when she swoons at the arrival of a UPS courier named Kyle who, we later find out, turns out to be Irish. He struts into her shop, mugging to the audience all the while, and with all the corny macho of a Chippendale dancer. In that role, Gregory Rininger is over-the-top hilarious.

    So too the chaotic courtroom scene in Act II, wherein we hear the song, Gay Or European? It’s a thoroughly irreverent skewering of social and ethnic stereotypes. Ultimately it prompts a cartoonish, suave witness named Nikos (Jaime Stabile) to launch into a gushy show of affection for his lover, Carlos (Michael Ritzert), who returns the favor with howling gusto.

    Throughout the proceedings, a trio of Elle’s sorority sisters appears to her in the form of a supportive “Greek Chorus,” providing a series of very funny encouragements and editorial asides led by the sharply animated Sarah Karam. And speaking of animated, the big dancing routines choreographed by Michael Lawrence Akers are an impressive mix of comedic spunk and exhilarating athleticism.    

    In the big picture here, consider the aforementioned singing weaknesses as forgivable misdemeanors. For this show is a bold-faced entertainment conspiracy in hot pink that successfully wreaks unrelenting fun and optimism upon the paying public. If that conspiracy were a crime, then director, cast and crew should be summarily convicted. Case closed.

    Legally Blonde: The Musical,  Canton Players Guild Theatre Mainstage, located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio. Shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., THROUGH SEPTEMBER 30. To order tickets please visit or call (330) 453 – 7617

    PHOTO by JAMES DREUSSI: Taylor Scott as Elle Woods

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