Opening Charleston Stage's 35th season, Legally Blonde is a hilarious, fun romp of a musical. Directed by Marybeth Clark, the show begins with eight silly, energetic sorority girls squealing about Elle Wood's upcoming engagement to her longtime boyfriend. These girls also feature, later on, as the "Greek chorus" of Elle's tragic thoughts, and in holiday breaks from Harvard law school. They, and indeed all the performers, bring it throughout the night.
Most of the actors are exceptional. Vanessa Moyen, as Elle, is adorable and so talented as an actor, singer, dancer, and comedian. Her sense of timing is spot-on, and her charming performance never flags. Devon A.A. Norris, who plays Emmett Forrest, Elle's hard-working love interest whose support helps her become an ace student, is also exceptionally talented, and what a voice! Moyen and Norris have a believably sweet relationship.
Brittani H. Minnieweather shines as the somewhat dim but ever-faithful friend, hairstylist Paulette Bonafonte. She has a convincing drawl and gorgeous singing voice while playing a truly funny and poignant character, someone who wants something more in a life where she hasn't had much opportunity. Nat Jones does a great job in his role of corrupt and lecherous Professor Callahan, and Beth Jones is fabulous as Warren's stuck-up new girlfriend, Vivienne Kensington (and she actually looks like Selma Blair, who starred in the film). Prentice Clark does well in her role as the lesbian law student, Enid Hoopes.
Some of the actors who play supporting roles double up. For example, the dancing college boys also feature as Harvard Law administrators, and are credible and spirited as both. Ryan Pixler is funny as Elle's rich father; he pulls up in his golf-cart and performs appropriately dad-like dance moves. Harrison Grant gets a lot of positive audience feedback as Kyle, the UPS man, and Josh Harris is funny as both a prison guard and later in his courtroom outburst as Carlos. Allison Schnake is a good no-nonsense Brooke Wyndham, the fitness megastar on trial for murder.
The canine actors deserve a round of applause as well. Dog Emery, who plays Rufus, seems happy to be on stage, and Chihuahua La Mein, who plays Bruiser, is a calm pink-collared dog. Both give consistent performances, and both are available for adoption through Pet Helpers.
Hats off to musical director Sam Henderson. The singers, for the most part, have exceptional voices. Lyrics, by Laurence O'Keefe and Neil Bejamin, are very witty. The orchestra, conducted by Sam Henderson, plays well and doesn't drown out the performers.
Choreographer Cara Dolan does a wonderful job keeping the dances peppy and in keeping with the action of the play. The dancers are in-sync too; both guys and gals do a fine job (special props to Anthony Massaratto). There are impressive full-out dance numbers such as Elle's "essay" dance in which Elle dances in majorette costume with cheerleader back-ups, some Irish dancing, the famous "Bend and Snap," a complicated jump rope workout number, and simple yet effective "seated" dances for the ensemble.
Scenic designer J. Kenneth Barnett III and lighting designer and technical director Paul Hartmann have also done superb jobs. There are seamless set transitions and the scenes are truly impressive and intricate. The show opens to a pink-lit background superimposed with green palm trees and two doors on each side, and transforms, by turns, into a department store, a restaurant complete with lowered lotus-flower lamps, a Harvard campus set, a beauty salon, a campus party, Elle's pink dorm room, and a trailer where Paulette attempts to regain possession of her dog from her ex — just to name a few.
Costumes by Barbara Young are well-chosen and range from sorority gear, Harvard preppy and grunge clothes, cheerleader sweats and uniforms, Elle's suits and pink bunny costume, black, red and white-colored trial suits, and graduation caps and gowns at end. Sound, by Joey Ferri and Josh Hasty, is always clear and on-cue, though Elle's microphone, somehow attached to her forehead, is a bit distracting, and Vivienne's mic seemed to go out a time or two.
The show conveys that beauty and brains, superficiality and profundity, don't necessarily exist in separate spheres. It explores the empowerment that comes from a combination of knowledge and a true sense of self, and highlights the importance of friends who believe in you. This feel-good musical is definitely a crowd-pleaser.