Legally Blonde The Musical may be the newest work in the Moonlight Stage Productions summer season (the others: Fiddler on the Roof, Anything Goes, and Sweeney Todd, are all at least 30 years old), but it certainly comes pre-sold. The 2001 film on which it was based is a staple for TV viewers, and its girrrl power message resonates with the audience demographic that made Wicked such a huge hit.
Still, the Broadway version didn’t recoup its investment despite a healthy run, and while a national tour continues the show hasn’t done as well at later stops as it did at earlier ones.
Now, it’s licensed for regional production, and I must say that Moonlight’s production doesn’t make the case for the show’s staying power.
Every show is a product of its time, but book writer Heather Hach and song writers Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin have taken particularly annoying cultural icons (for example, the phrase, “OMG”) to satirize. The songs are peppy and preppy but don’t exactly lodge themselves in your brain. Act 2 is far stronger than Act 1, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.
The story is so familiar it needs only a cursory recounting. Elle Woods (Emma Degerstedt), a UCLA fashion design major and sorority stallwart, has been dumped by her boyfriend, Warner (Anthony Carillo) for lack of gravitas. Determined to win him back, Elle gains admission to Harvard Law School, where Warner is also enrolled. There, she meets Emmett Forrest (Brandon Joel Maier), recent graduate and assistant to feared Professor Callahan (Cris O’Bryon) and hairdresser Paulette (Julie Cardia), who, along with a Greek chorus of sorority sisters (Alexis Henderson, Tiana Okoye, and Stephanie Wolfe), provide support and encouragement as Elle struggles to come into her own and finds that she doesn’t need Warner’s love to complete her.
Act 1 spends a lot of time in plot set-up, moving from Los Angeles to Cambridge, and introducing a myriad of characters. Act 2 is much sharper, focusing on a hilarious trial scene (and the best song, the cryptically titled “There! Right There!”), as well as a comic subplot involving Paulette and Kyle, the UPS driver (an on-target Johnny Fletcher), before deteriorating into mush again.
Director and Choreographer John Vaughan spends some of his time coaching what I’m sure is an excellent college show choir, and this production, while billed as professional, rates as an above-average college effort. Moonlight’s excellent lighting capacity can’t hide the tackiness of the rented sets, and hopefully the sound cues will come off better once the show settles in than they did opening night. The one bright spot (literally) is the large number of colorful costumes, coordinated (which, I assume means picked out from rental houses or purchased) by Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd, and Carlotta Malone. Another bright spot is the musical direction of Dr. Terry O’Donnell and the performance of the thirteen-piece orchestra.
Performance quality varies widely and is not helped by less-than-stellar work by Ms. Degerstedt in the central role. Perhaps it was opening night jitters, but Ms. Degersted took a long time to get going, not hitting her stride until Act 2. Even then, her chemistry with the other performers seemed forced, despite high quality help from Mr. Maier (who lit up the stage at his every appearance) and Ms. Cardia (who made us like Paulette more and more as the story progressed).
Moonlight has gone a long way to help the relatively remote North County town of Vista to put itself on the map as a theatre center, and retiring artistic director Kathy Brombacher is deservedly being honored for her 35 years of achievement. With Starlight gone for now, and maybe forever, Moonlight remains the place to see large scale musicals outdoors during the summer. It’s a very pleasant and well-managed venue and worthy of the large audiences it draws. I hope that the other productions Moonlight will stage this summer will help Ms. Brombacher to depart on a high note: unfortunately, Legally Blondeprovides only a mixed blessing. Performances continue through July 14.
Moonlight Stage Productions presents Legally Blonde The Musical, Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin, Book by Heather Hach. Directed and Choreographed by John Vaughan with Dr. Terry O’Donnell, Musical Director & Conductor, Christina L. Munich, Lighting Designer, Peter Hashagen, Sound Designer, Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd, and Carlotta Malone, Costume Coordinators, Stanley D. Cohen, Stage Manager, Suzanne Asebroek, Properties Coordinator, and Jessica Standifer, Assistant Stage Manager.
The cast includes Marius Beltran, Jessica Bernard, Cassie Bowerman, Julie Cardia, Anthony Carillo, Emma Degerstedt, Deborah Fauerbach, Johnny Fletcher, Alexis Henderson, Janell Henry, Ted Leib, Danielle Levas, Brandon Joel Maier, Michael Marchak, Kevin McDonald, Marlene Montes, Cris O’Bryon, Tiana Okoye, Katie Palmer, Dylan Pass, Jayson Puls, Jennifer Simpson, Matthew Thurmond, Stephanie Wolfe, and Kim Zolozabal.
at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive in Vista. Tickets ($22-$50) may be purchased by phoning 760-724-2110 or by visiting the Vistix website.