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Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Legally Blonde the Musical
Nevada Conservatory Theatre
Review by Mary LaFrance

Also see Mary's review of The Elephant Man


Katie Marie Jones and Maurice-Aimé Green
Photo by Richard Brusky
Adapting a hit film into a stage musical is a risky proposition, but Legally Blonde has captivated audiences on Broadway and in the West End. With a book by Heather Hach, and music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, this feminist-and-fun romp keeps you laughing while you root for its unlikely heroine, the only superficially superficial Elle Woods. This month, the Nevada Conservatory Theatre presents a delightful production of Legally Blonde the Musical at UNLV's Judy Bayley Theatre. Grab a ticket before it closes this weekend.

The quintessential "valley girl" (although she's from Malibu), the blonde and vivacious Elle has devoted her parentally funded life to fun, fashion, the Delta Nu sorority, her purse-dog chihuahua (Bruiser), and the love of her life, the stiffly perfect Warner Huntington III. However, bound for Harvard Law School and a career in politics, Warner abruptly dumps Elle because she's a "Marilyn" when a man in his position needs a "Jackie."

At first, the devastated Elle buries her tears in chocolate bars. Then, at the urging of her parents and the Delta Nus, she decides to fight for Warner - all the way to Harvard Law. After all, she has a 4.0 (in fashion merchandising). She crams for the LSAT and delivers her personal essay in personam—leading a squad of singing, dancing cheerleaders right into the admissions office. And we're only halfway through act one.

Once Elle arrives at Harvard, the hits just keep on coming: cut-throat classmates, the professor from hell, and Warner's new girlfriend, the disdainful Vivienne. Elle struggles to stay afloat until, finally, a murder trial gives her the chance to prove herself—but at what cost?

Just like the movie, the musical is a perfect blend of comedy and high stakes, but it has the added attraction of a bouncy score and clever lyrics. Like the movie, too, the musical needs an especially gifted actress to play Elle. She must be laughable to a degree, but she must also capture our hearts. Happily, the Nevada Conservatory Theatre has the perfect Elle in Katie Marie Jones, a multi-talented phenomenon who has proven herself in many productions throughout the Valley. In musical comedy terms, Jones is not just a triple threat, she's a quadruple threat: She can act, sing, and dance (my oh my, can she dance!), but she also has terrific stage presence. Even when Elle is feeling small and pitiful, Jones effortlessly dominates the stage. That's star quality, and it makes for an unmissable performance.

With such great material, and such a fine leading lady, one can forgive the varying levels of skill in the rest of the company. Because Nevada Conservatory Theatre is a professional training program, some of the performers are still learning their craft. Several of them, however, do fine work. One of the standouts is Maurice-Aimé Green as Emmet, the Harvard teaching assistant who befriends and mentors Elle. Green projects an open earnestness that grounds his character and makes him as lovable as Elle.

Drew Freeman has a memorable turn as the fitness guru accused of killing her wealthy but much older husband. In the number "Whipped Into Shape," she wields her jump rope like a martial arts weapon. Ryan Baker does fine work as Hunter, keeping the character sympathetic rather than one-dimensional. Jason Husena shows a comic flair as Nikos the pool boy, and Axel Knight makes the most of his stage time as Kyle, the hunky UPS guy. As Paulette, the hair stylist who befriends Elle and lusts after Kyle, Gabrielle Silveroli has good stage presence and a fine singing voice.

One persistent problem, however, is that many in this young ensemble have a tendency to swallow their consonants while singing, causing some of the lyrics to be lost. (A few of them do this even while speaking.) Although the sound mix may aggravate this by over-amplifying the orchestra to the detriment of the vocals, some of the performers manage to be clearer than the others.

Director/choreographer Keenon D. Hooks brings a wealth of experience, and it shows. The production never lags. Even the book scenes are strong and energetic. The dance sequences are dynamic and for the most part well-executed, with the notable exception of the Irish step dancing, which has plenty of energy but seems to be well outside the ensemble's comfort zone. Somehow, though, its very ineptness adds to its charm.

It's always a pleasure to hear a live orchestra, and this one (conducted by musical director James Whiting) is 13 members strong.

The set design by Dana Moran Williams is highly efficient, enabling quick scene changes. (The prison projection is especially clever.) Kirt Siders' bold lighting design complements the eye-catching costumes by Gabrielle Lewis.

This production is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Or, as Elle would say, "Omigod You Guys"!

Legally Blonde the Musical, through May 12, 2019, at the University of Nevada, Judy Bayley Theatre, 4505 Maryland Pkwy. S, Las Vegas NV. Performances are Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2 pm. For tickets ($28 adults, $25.25 seniors and military, $12 students 18 and under) and further information, visit www.unlv.edu/nct.

Cast:
Elle: Katie Marie Jones
Margot: Alyssa Tortomassi
Serena: Dominique Schuster
Pilar: Kyara Isis Williams
Emmet: Maurice Aim?-Green
Paulette: Gabrielle Silveroli
Callahan: Mickey Rourke
Warner: Ryan Baker
Vivienne: Kristina Kirkpatrick
Brooke: Drew Freeman
Enid: Vivien Viernes
Chutney: Sydney Tso
Nikos/Grand Master Chad/Sundeep: Jason Husena
Kyle/Lowell/Ensemble: Axel Knight
Kate/Ensemble: Carmen Maher
Elle's Mom/Store manager: Tiffany DeStefano
Elle's Dad/Ensemble: Jacob Noble
Judge/Delta Nu/Ensemble: Morgan Tilley
Aaron Schultz/Carlos/Ensemble: Scott Brown
Dewey/Ensemble: T.V. Ford
Pforzheimer/Ensemble: Dominic L. Graber-Pritchard
Ensemble: Ryder Hankins, R.J. Viray
Delta Nus/Ensemble: Arielle Fernandez-Atkinson, Kyra Bracamontes, Jaeda Larkins, Lauren Tauber
Bruiser: Punky
Rufus: Max

Additional Creative:
Sound Designer: Ben Truppin-Brown


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