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Musical's supporting cast, set design, pups steal show

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Abbey Austin, as Elle Woods, center, performs in a scene of "Legally Blonde" at Shenandoah University. — Courtesy photo

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

"Legally Blond The Musical," by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, leaves a smile on faces of audience members, but those who have seen and enjoyed the 2001 movie might also leave disappointed.

The first in the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre's four-musical lineup, it centers on the story of a California sorority girl who attends Harvard Law School "for love," and it's packed with pep and sweetness and never-ending optimism.

Wm McConnell Pierson's impressive set design makes transitions a snap with bright and functional rooms on wheels, and Robin Higginbotham's clever choreography helps set the scene for the cute tale of a young woman who in the end realizes the only thing blocking her path to success is herself.

Abbey Austin is convincing as Elle Woods -- fun to watch and easy to root for -- but she's a less self-assured version of Reese Witherspoon's Elle, more reliant on young lawyer Emmett to clue her in to how she might break away from her cyclical path of self-defeat.

It's difficult to believe her assurances that she can be the serious senator's wife her boyfriend Warner wants her to be when she doesn't even remove the plastic wrap from her law textbook until several weeks into her fall semester.

John Baker's Callahan is one of the threats to Elle's success at Harvard. Married to his opinions (in the song "Blood in the Water"), he's more kooky than sinister and far from the villain of the story. Warner's new girlfriend Vivienne, too, offers only a temporary roadblock to Elle, who quickly learns how to deflect Vivienne's cruelty with humor and quick thinking.

What she lacks in intention, however, Elle makes up for in likability, as, throughout the story, she easily manages to enlist the support of everyone around her, from the sorority girls who respect her beauty at the beginning, to the law students who admire her resilience toward the end.

As a musical, "Legally Blond" offers a near idyllic setting, with showstopping numbers that make the audience want to join in the fun.

Elle's "Greek Chorus" of Delta Nu sorority friends adds support and recognition to Elle's inner dialogue and deserves every laugh it receives.

The orchestra is exceptional, the string section especially moving when accentuating the few emotional scenes.

Actors Lou Steele (Emmett) and Addison Reid Coe (Warner) are noteworthy singers, though the score offers the other lead players little opportunity to use their vocal talents.
Bryn Harvey's Vivienne and Whitney Warrenfeltz's Brooke both demand respect in their roles as the driven women they play -- the sort to which Elle aspires to become -- but both need Elle to teach them as well. Vivienne, who thinks success means not having any fun, and Brooke, who can corral participants into her prison yard fitness class (in the song "Whipped Into Shape") but cannot convince a jury or her lawyers of her innocence, both benefit from Elle's more idealistic view on life.

Most enjoyable is Carolyn Coulson-Grigsby, who steals the stage in a much stronger-willed and more wistful portrayal of manicurist Paulette.

The musical mostly honors the film, and most of its laughs come from lines direct from the Hollywood script, but the stage play offers its own shining moments, notably Elle's Harvard admission essay set to song, complete with marching band and gymnasts, or the courtroom scene during which court members hypothesize whether one of the key witnesses is "Gay or European."

And, of course, no rendition of "Legally Blond" would be complete without Elle's teacup pup Bruiser and Paulette's adorable English bull dog Rufus, both of whom earn the audience's smiles and giggles.

While teens and adults alike might enjoy the show, parents should reconsider bringing young children. Many jokes are for mature audiences only.

"Legally Blond The Musical" continues at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre at Shenandoah University this weekend and runs through June 24.

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