By Sue Merrell
There ought to be a law against having that much energy on stage at one time. But since the Augusta Barn’s apprentice program always has plenty of youthful energy and talent to spare, such organized chaos is perfectly legal…that is, perfectly “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”
Omigod, you guys! By the finale, the entire stage is covered with gyrating bodies. The whole company, including choreographer Jamey Grisham and set designer Steven Lee Burright, have on-stage roles. Even producer Brendan Ragotzy has a “package” as the UPS delivery man.
Based on Amanda Brown’s novel, and the 2001 movie, this heartwarming, hilarious story imagines a Valley girl taking over the hallowed halls of Harvard and teaching her fellow legal students a few things about bend and snap, permed hair maintenance and the power of positive thinking.
The 2007 Broadway version was directed and choreographed by Michigan’s own Jerry Mitchell, and The Barn’s production still bears Mitchell’s constantly moving cinematic feel with set pieces coming and going as often as the parade of kitchy characters.
Third year apprentice Melissa Cotton plays the spunky Elle Woods, a California sorority sister whose egotistical beau, Warner (Jamey Grisham), dumps her for someone more serious. A straight-A student in fashion merchandising, Elle follows him to Harvard, bringing along her sassy Greek chorus of imaginary sorority sisters to help her think through each step of her transformation with snappy songs and witty lyrics (music by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin).
Elle receives wise counsel from the plucky graduate assistant Emmett (Patrick Hunter), and in return gives him a fashion makeover so he looks as smart as he is. The stable of talented Barnies shine in a variety of roles from pool boy and cheer leader to hairdressers, Harvard students and even a snippy violinist. This is a great show for a large cast with lots of memorable moments. Extra kudos to Bethany Edlund who kept singing beautifully while jumping rope flawlessly as exercise video queen Brooke Wyndham, and then held a back-breaking pose in a freeze-frame scene.
Amid all this unbridled energy, a handful of Barn regulars provide the expected professional polish. As tough-talking Professor Callahan, Eric Parker packs some power into his spotlight number “Blood in the Water.” As the lovelorn hairdresser Paulette, Penelope Alex keeps just the right balance of silliness and sentiment.
But Tuesday’s opening night audience went wild when producer Brendan Ragotzy, whom the audience usually sees only in the opening curtain speech, marched on stage as a UPS delivery man. Paulette is smitten, and the match is particularly fun for longtime fans who know Alex and Ragotzy are married in real life. Another real life married couple, Roy Brown and Emily Fleming, portray Elle’s parents.
But as often happens in shows that feature live animals, the two dogs in the show received some of the loudest applause, and plenty of ooos and ahhs, even though their roles consisted mostly of being themselves.
Tuesday’s opening show was bedeviled with sound problems. The sound techs seemed to have difficulty keeping up with all the microphones for the large cast and often the ones who were speaking or singing were turned off or too low. Sometimes they were turned up too loud with screeching results. Those problems resolved by the second act and hopefully will be under control as the two-week run continues.
Director Hans Friedrichs does a good job of wrangling the large cast and keeping the action moving. Music director John Jay Espino and his pit band have their hands full with this explosive rock-music score. It has some challenging spots, such as “The Harvard Variations,” which need some work to reach full potential, but overall these are catchy, enjoyable songs.
Steven Lee Burright’s sliding set pieces provide dozens of believable settings at a moment’s notice. Costume designer Michael Wilson Morgan must have bought out all the hot pink accessories in southwest Michigan.
“Legally Blonde” is a fun story with a solid heart. Be true to yourself and check it out.
‘Legally Blonde – The Musical’
Barn Theatre, 13351 W. M-96, Augusta. Tuesday-Sunday through July 15. 145 minutes. $34. 269-731-4121. http://www.barntheatre.com