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Posted June 7, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

'Legally Blonde' earns high marks from cast, director

Abbey Austin, center, is Elle Woods in Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre's production of "Legally Blonde." — Rich Cooley/Daily

John Baker, as Professor Callahan, rehearses a scene of "Legally Blond The Musical" for the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre at Shenandoah University in Winchester. — Rich Cooley/Daily

Abbey Austin, center, as Elle Woods in the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s production of “Legally Blond,” rehearses a scene with Addison Reid Coe, left, as Warner, and Bryn Harvey, as Vivienne. — Rich Cooley/Daily

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Kicking off the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre with style, comedy and a ruling of girl power is "Legally Blonde The Musical," which cast members say will leave a smile on audience members' faces.

"We have a terrific cast, we have an outstanding choreographer and musical director, and if you want to see music done right, you should come and see our show," said director Hal Herman.

The first in the theater's four-show lineup, it's the story of sorority girl Elle Woods, who applies to Harvard Law School after her longtime boyfriend Warner dumps her and takes up with someone he considers more his intellectual equal.

The musical is a close representation of the hit 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Herman said, but according to the cast, the musical offers more back story.

Recent Shenandoah University graduate Abbey Austin plays Elle, a young woman who gains strength from people underestimating her. The character was strong in the movie, Austin and her cast mates agree; but she has more intention in the musical.

After realizing that her law school experience is not going to mirror her undergraduate years, Elle seeks friendships with other underdog characters, manicurist Paulette, played by Carolyn Coulcson-Grigsby, and lawyer Emmett, played by Lou Steele.

"It is a girl power show," Coulson-Grigsby said. "I really like the message of the show. You can do it."

Austin agreed: "I love this show because it's, you know, about being true to who you are,"

"I think that she's a heroine," she said, adding, "I think that's awesome."

"If you set your mind to it. If you really want it, it can happen."

According to Steele and Coulson-Grigsby, their characters are better developed in the musical.

"I think that the way that she bonds with Elle is really interesting," Coulson-Grigsby said.

"Paulette is the most different in the musical," she said.

As for Emmett, he might have graduated from Harvard, but he got there all on his own merit, not by his family pulling strings like Warner's parents do.

"I get to find some strength," Steele said.

Emmett is surrounded by people born into privilege. He meets Elle, who also comes from privilege, but she's not like the others. She also has something to prove -- that has brains beneath her blond roots; but she also disproves the characters who think they need to be ruthless to get ahead in life.

He takes her on as a project early on, Steele said. "It's nice to be able to relate to that."

Addison Reid Coe plays Warner and Bryn Harvey his fiancée Vivienne Kensington. Whitney Warrenfeltz portrays fitness expert and accused murderer Brooke Taylor Wyndham and John Baker is ruthless lawyer Professor Callahan.

Of Callahan, Baker said, "He pulls all the strings. He has all the power. Like he can make them or break them. He's very clever, he's very smart. He has a song about being a shark, which is what he is."

"Callahan seems like the kind of man you want to aspire to be, but he's not," he said. The show is about being better than that, he said.

"This is one of the shows that you're going to come see," Austin said, "and then you're going to leave in a better mood.

"Legally Blonde: The Musical" begins at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre at Shenandoah University on June 13 and runs through June 24. The next three shows in the summer theater will be "Dolly Parton's 9-5 The Musical," "Grease" and "Peter Pan." For tickets and information, visit shenandoahsummermusictheatre.com or call the box office at 665-4569.

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