They’ve got that beeeeeend and SNAP! See how good they’re getting? Beeeeeend and SNAP! All the fun they’re having? They’ve sprung the trap; you’ll cheer and clap for their beeeeeend and SNAP! And generally for their production of Legally Blonde! Third Wall Productions breaks up the midwinter blues with their second show of the 2019-2020 season— Legally Blonde! Directed by Henry Cyr with Musical Direction by Patty DeLisle, and Choreography y Cecilia & Lucy DeBaugh, this peppy, perky, pick-me-up is just what you need to chase away the wintery blues…and trade them in for some pizzazz-pumped pinks!
There’s energy abound in this production; there’s no denying that Third Wall Productions has drummed up some incredibly talented individuals to deliver pep and personality for this show. Director Henry Cyr presents an impressive show, though not without a few hiccups along the way. Opening night jitters may be to blame for some of the clunkier transitions between scenes— the whole first act was riddled with what looked like too many bodies (ensemble and run crew) trying to coordinate the shifting of larger set pieces on and off stage— or perhaps an imbalance of people when it comes to executing these transitions. There were moments when only a few things were leaving the stage and there were too many people for those limited things, but in the same vein there were moments when there were only be one or two people responsible for moving larger set pieces on and off, especially when it came to the courtroom/classroom risers. Unfortunately, these scene changes, in addition to feeling clunky, slowed the overall pacing of the show, and at times overpowered some of the softer spoken and sung starts to scenes.
Pit balance was an issue at this performance as well. Generally, Andrew Zile, directing the Third Wall pit, has a better handle on the overpowering sound that seeps out from backstage. In particular the drums were the overpowering factor and this was most noticeable during “Bend and Snap”, where the Delta Nu Greek Chorus girls could barely be heard over the instruments. Despite these pit balancing issues, the music that was arising from the orchestra sounded well-paced and well-tuned.
The show’s other problematic issue is Jim Shomo’s erratic, out of control lighting design. To Shomo’s credit there are moments when the lighting design really accents and even enhances what’s happening on stage; this occurs most frequently when there is a cool blue, stilled wash over the scene to indicate that something serious or dramatic has happened. The chandelier gobo for the “posh party” is a nice touch (those awkward sunflower petal flowers used in both department store scenes are unfocused and unclear.) But the constant moving, flashing, swirling bursts of color are so distracting during the up-tempo numbers that it detracts from all the hard work that the performers and the choreographers have put into these songs. Shomo does the entire cast and Choreographers Cecilia and Lucy DeBaugh a tremendous disservice by creating distracting, rave-style light sequences during “What You Want”, “Positive” (the white-flash-strobe backlit action here is perhaps the most distracting in the show), “So Much Better”, and “Bend and Snap.” By forcing these steroid-pumped light spectacles onto these numbers, Shomo is implying that he doesn’t trust the cast, the choreographers, and the music & lyrics to bring enough sensation to the stage for these moments; it’s disrespectful to their efforts, an insult to Laurence O’Keefe & Nell Benjamin’s music & lyrics, and drags a stellar show down from a great one to an “overdone one.”
There are other minor details, far more that are good and praiseworthy than those that generate questions and plant seeds of doubt, but as Third Wall Productions has come to deliver ‘step-above’ community theatre, the bar of expectations is set high. Little details, particularly in an intimate space like this one, are noticed; Elle Woods would never wear black or navy blue before her transition at the top of the second act, it weakens that transition to see a black vest underlining her pink jacket or that black accent jacket in her dorm-room. And it looks out of place for Emmet to take an noticeably oversized gray jacket into the fitting room during “Take It Like a Man” only to come out seconds later wearing a pristinely fitted black and silver pinstripe one. But for every one of these faux pas and hiccups there are at least three other things that are smart, clever and unique to Cyr’s vision and re-elevate the overall production to the caliber of professionalism that has come to be expected from a Third Wall Production. Giving Vivienne a striking pinstripe pink top when she pops out of the salon during “Legally Blonde— The Remix” is a superb and clever way to show that she’s pro-Elle. Or the bloody handprinted curtain featured over ‘the shower’ for “Scene of the Crime.” If Cyr and his production team— Jordan Hollet Amy & Pat Rudai on Scenic Design, Jenifer Hollet on Costumes, and Amy Haynes Rapnicki on Hair & Wigs— can perfect those details, then they can fix the questionable ones to make a great production a phenomenal one.
Snaps to co-choreographers Cecilia and Lucy DeBaugh who really get that preppy, poppy, bubblegum pink flavor of Legally Blonde, especially when it comes to the girls of Delta Nu doing their thing. The DeBaughs use simple, cheer-inspired routines, which play well to the spatial restrictions of the stage, and really give that UCLA “Malibu Barbie” vibe. Even more impressive than their mastery of the perky cheerleading routines, which wend their way through “What You Want”, “So Much Better”, “Daughters of Delta Nu”, and even loosely inspire some of the fun-movements in “Bend and Snap”, is the way the DeBaughs get the guys dancing at the end of “Ireland.” The fleet-footed kickline where the men dance— without moving their arms— earned a rowdy series of cheers at this performance and really fits the style of the Irish-inspired tune.
A strong ensemble works with rigorous effort to be heard over the pit and seen over the lights, but they stand triumphant for the majority of the production. Keep your eyes out for Michael Zellhofer and Lauren Lowell, as Elle’s doting yet ridiculously rich parents, (Lowell and Zellhofer both double out throughout, so look closely!), as well as the Nathan Hendrix, J Purnell Hargrove, and Eve Carlson, who play Aaron Shultz, Sundeep Padamadan, and Enid Hoops, respectively. This trio brings glorious blends (by way of Musical Director Patty DeLisle) to “The Harvard Variations”, in this very unsettling showcase of affluence and entitlement. You’ll have far more fun, however, if you set your eyes on Hargrove as the assistant inside Paulette’s salon; he all but chases the drop-dead-gorgeous package delivery guy out of the store, riddled with an insatiable lust; it is hilarious.
Speaking of— Alex Pecas is a blast of dynamite who steals the show with just a few quick scenes and his rich bass voice that screams PG-13 Seduction symbol of the 90’s (still mostly a kid-friendly show, folks!) Between his strut and his voice, Pecas owns the stage as Kyle, package delivery man, and when he leads the fellas in the dance line at the end of “Ireland”, try not to throw your underthings on stage. Pecas also possesses an impeccable sense of timing, subtly underscoring the caricature of the character with zippy humor that really makes him an impressive addition to the cast.
The rah-rash squad of Delta Nu Greek chorus sisters, led by the fiery Bailey Wolf as Serena, emerges from Elle’s mind to support her every step of the way on her journey through Harvard. The Delta Nus— featuring Wolf as Serena, Katelyn Clay as Margot, Patricia Anderson as Pilar, Kelsey Albert as Kate, and Kayla Szczybor as Gaelen— really pump up numbers like “Bend and Snap” and their synchronized movements are quite impressive! Each of the Delta Nus, along with the other ensemble girls who join the Delta Nus in the earlier, bigger numbers at UCLA, are full of spunk and spirit and they never waver in this high-octane energy.
The polar opposite of a Delta Nu is Chutney Wyndham (Kali Baklor) with her pissy attitude, hideodeous wig, and overall displeased countenance. While she’s only featured briefly during “Scene of the Crime”, Baklor makes the most of her five minutes of fame (catch her doubling up during “Whipped Into Shape”, where she holds her own with everyone on that stage, almost out-pacing them with some of the more intense cardio-inspired dance moves) and really gives us cause to remember this heinous character. Of course Brook Wyndham (Emily Wesselhoff) who is the epitome of fitness queen, puts the ensemble through their paces, skipping rope at triple speed (and never missing once) during “Whipped Into Shape” and belts her way through the number without losing her breath. Wesselhoff brings a little simmer of that Delta Nu sisterhood to her character portrayal, which gives Brook a nice added dimension of reality.
The underrated antagonist in Legally Blonde is Vivienne Kensington (Lizzy Jackson Fleischmann.) Edgy, frigid, and having that snide humorous fun when it comes to picking on Elle, Fleischmann’s Vivienne also finds a deeper existence than Heather Hach’s book may initially call for. You don’t really get to experience Fleischmann’s vocal prowess until she’s belting it out during “Legally Blonde— The Remix” but once you hear her, you won’t forget her. Powerful of voice, and fully present when it comes to not only playing the antagonist, but shifting into a supportive woman, Fleischmann is an impressive addition to the cast.
At first the Vivienne character seems perfectly matched to Warner Huntington III (Andy Collins), who is easy on the eyes and even easier on the ears. With a smooth, hot-shot crooner sound, his rendition of “Serious” has the audience swooning over his sound, right until they listen to what is actually being said in that song. (Watch the waiter, played by the multi-talented Max Wolf at the end of that number, it’s just desserts served cold! And keep watching Wolf when he appears later as Nikos Argitakos on the stand during “There! Right There!” It’s a scream!) Collins, who fills out the aloof and self-affixed character of Warner quite well is the perfect fit between Elle and Vivienne in this production. Again, not given many solo chances to shine vocally, like Fleischmann’s Vivienne, once you hear him, you won’t soon forget him.
Ruthless and seedy, sleazy and unsettling, the man that runs the billion-dollar law firm, Professor Callahan (Christopher Kabara) is the epitome of villainy in Legally Blonde. Kabara is physically intimidating and infuses that intimidation into his vocal stalking skills for delivering “Blood in the Water.” He masters the prickly spoken bits as well as the smoother sung portions of that song sublimely and really puts the creeps and the shivers out there, the more he gets exposed as a nasty baddie. Watch his meticulously controlled facial expressions as well; they inspire fear and hilarity, occasionally at the same time!
Transforming the role of Paulette Buonufonte from hyper caricature to realistic human, Amy Haynes Rapnicki delivers one of the most believably realistic performances of the production. Rapnicki finds the core of Paulette’s humanity and settles gently into that element, letting the scripted humor that is built around her character’s situation speak for itself. The subtle and human approach to the Paulette character really makes those moments— particularly during “Bend and Snap” when she achieves that “over-the-top” state of being, that much more potent. Not to mention the powerful, belting sound that Rapnicki delivers in that number. Her meet-cute chemistry with Kyle is adorable; the most impressive facet of her amazing performance is the well-maintained and subtle accent that she imbues to the character. It’s just a hint of ‘lower-class’ rather than the exaggerated, and often poorly executed, sound that gets attributed to the Paulette character. Rapnicki makes Paulette real, which sheds a whole new light on that element of the narrative.
The man with the chip on his shoulder, Johnny Dunkerly playing Emmett Forest, is as grounded in his convictions and his existence as Paulette is real. There is something simple and earnest about the way Dunkerly approaches Emmett; almost like the love that he feels for Elle by the end of the show falls on him like a happy accident. Driven as hell doesn’t even begin to describe the way Dunkerly succeeds with this character, both vocally and emotionally. His big featured number, “Chip On Your Shoulder” showcases his dynamic range, his impressive ability to emote while singing, and it gives the audience a chance to fully experience his wide variety of vivid and animated facial expressions. The confidence that Dunkerly brings to Emmet is steady, not cocky, and this makes all the difference for the final few scenes of the show.
Little Miss Woods comma Elle, played brilliantly by Maggie Mellott, is the heartbeat of Legally Blonde. With a stellar voice that sails and soars all through numbers like “So Much Better” and “Take It Like a Man”, Mellott is a perfect fit for this role. While there is a touch of blonde-ambition and blonde-simplicity, Mellott humanizes Elle as well, showcasing that ‘brainless romance’ we can all relate to when it comes to the hot ex in our lives. Her pipes are powerful, her emotions clear. When Mellott sings “Legally Blonde”, the broken, heart-crushing first rendition of this song, you feel yourself in agony over what she’s experiencing. Versatile and well-suited for all of the fabulous shades of pink they throw on her, Maggie Mellott lives up to the moniker— Legally Blonde.
So OMIGOD— OMIGOD, you guys! Don’t wait to get tickets; Third Wall Productions’ Legally Blonde only runs for two weekends and you’ll be so like super sorry if you miss it!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Legally Blonde plays through February 23, 2020 at with Third Wall Productions at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church— 1108 Providence Road in Towson, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online.