The University of Rhode Island Theatre Department closed out its first weekend of performances of “Legally Blonde: The Musical” this Sunday to a very full and energetic house.
The show is based on the novel “Legally Blonde” by Amanda Brown and the 2001 film with the same name that starred Reese Witherspoon. The film has gained a cult following in the years since its release and has spurred numerous sequels and spin-off movies. In 2007, the musical version of the story was premiered in San Francisco, and later that year moved to Broadway, where it ran for about a year and a half. Since then, the show has seen many incarnations in different locations across the United States, as well as multiple productions internationally.
The URI Theatre Department’s production of the show, which premiered Thursday, April 22, starred Anya Fox as Elle Woods, a blonde sorority girl from California. As the play begins, Woods and her sorority sisters believe that she is about to receive a marriage proposal from boyfriend Warner Huntington III, played by Jake E. Clarke. Instead of a proposal, however, Woods is dumped by her boyfriend, who says that he needs someone more serious, someone who is “less of a Marilyn, more of a Jackie.” Woods takes this break-up as an incentive, and follows Huntington to Harvard Law School in an attempt to win him back.
The show follows Woods to Harvard, where she encounters many new friends and rivals, including Huntington’s new girlfriend, Vivienne Kensington, played by Christine Dickinson. At Harvard Law, Woods also encounters a new love interest in the form of Emmett Forrest, played by Ben Church.
There was not a single weak link in the cast, with each cast member adding something interesting and entertaining to the production. Fox was commanding, likable and entertaining as lead role Elle Woods. She and Church paired extremely well together, with his portrayal of Emmett Forrest feeling very familiar and relatable. Other characters outside the lead roles also won over the audience and became fan favorites. Katherine Riley’s portrayal of Paulette the beautician was funny, entertaining and very well sung. The production’s leads were strong and entertaining without exception. Backed by fantastic secondary characters and a great ensemble, the production kept the story captivating and very exciting.
Aside from the performances, one of the production’s biggest strengths had to be the extremely clever and practical set design, created by scenic designer Cheryl deWardener. Throughout the entirety of the show, two large, rotating set pieces were utilized to show different environments, such as a dorm room, a beauty salon and a department store, to name a few. These set pieces opened up and could be rotated freely, as well as stood on top of to add another dimension to the stage blocking.
The show’s blocking and choreography were also fantastic and worth recognizing. The clever staging utilized the unique shape of the theater, having actors run into the aisles of the audience and down the ramp coming off center stage. The production’s choreography was superb; one scene featured a group of inmates using jump ropes in a highly synchronized and much practiced dance to the song “Whipped into Shape,” led by Sarah Feeley as Brooke Wyndham. Several numbers throughout the show featured large dance groups in well-constructed routines, however the choreography in “Whipped into Shape” stood above the rest.
“Legally Blonde” is a light-hearted, fun underdog story that will have you laughing and having fun for the entire show. URI’s production is great, and lives up to the high-quality show that people have come to expect from the Theatre Department. The second and final weekend of performances will take place April 28 to 30 at 7:30 p.m. and May 1 at 3:00 p.m. For more information, visit http://web.uri.edu/theatre/current-season/.