By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun
2:23 PM PDT, July 24, 2012
In its summer offering of the award-winning hit "Legally Blonde — The Musical," Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia has a light-hearted, fast-paced romantic comedy.
Toby's production, the area premiere of Laurence O'Keefe's and Nell Benjamin's musical, has us rooting for Elle Woods, who knows who she is and what she wants and uses her smarts to win back her boyfriend.
Five-time Helen Hayes Award nominee Mark Minnick serves as director and choreographer. Minnick has directed and choreographed national and international productions, including "Grease" in Istanbul and Macau. Here in Columbia, he takes dance numbers to frantically paced, high-wattage heights and all his dancers deliver their energetic best.
Toby Orenstein serves as artistic director, and this production's joyous spirit and elegant attention to detail signal hallmarks of the theater owner's style.
Ross Scott Rawlings is musical director, leading a skilled group of musicians in a score of lively numbers guaranteed to get audience toes feverishly tapping along with the exuberant cast.
Central to this production's success is the Malibu fashionista Elle Woods, who somehow makes us believe in the unlikely story of transforming herself from bubblehead to brainy, motivated achiever whose 175 LSAT score will get her admitted to Harvard Law. Elle is dynamically played by Jessica Lauren Ball, whose character convinces us she is a leader of women — from Delta Nu sorority girls to Harvard colleagues and a collection of beauty shop misfits.
From her first number, "Omigod You Guys," sung with her sorority ensemble, through her unique Harvard admissions process in "What You Want" and "Harvard Variations" to the liberating Act 1-concluding number "Chip on My Shoulder" and "So Much Better," Ball's Elle retains her optimistic, philosophically evolving focus.
In Act 2, Ball's Elle moves further away from the Malibu fashionista to grow as an articulate budding lawyer. She helps beautician Paulette, played by scene-stealing singer/comedienne Priscilla Cuellar, who gains confidence to confront her bullying partner. Elle also wins over accused murderer and former fitness guru Brooke Wyndham, perfectly played by Heather Marie Beck, who eventually fires her senior lawyer to hire Elle instead.
Adding their own energetic optimism are the Delta Nu sorority girls, who strut their way through a series of numbers from "Omigod You Guys" to the hilarious, sensuous tutoring in "Bend and Snap." They also join in the rope-jumping prison calisthenics of "Whipped into Shape," choreographed with ropes flying perilously close to each participant in furious frenzy.
Julia Lancione, Mary Kate Brouillet and Mary Searcy are outstanding Delta Nu girls. Lancione, a Toby's regular who always delivers, plays Margot, who contributes mightily to every number. The equally energetic Brouillet gives her all as Serena, and Searcy sings up a storm as awesome Pilar. As needed, the sorority girls become a modern Greek chorus, sharing their unique wisdom in beauty salons and court rooms.
Playing high-society Harvard Law student Vivienne, Beth Rayca relishes playing the deliciously nasty role of Elle's adversary before becoming her supporter after discovering she has rejected her boss' unwanted sexual advances.
Although this show is predominantly about the liberation of women, Toby's production features some outstanding male performers.
Versatile David James plays a maitre d' who serves Elle and boyfriend Warner (Austin VanDyke Colby), who is expected to propose to Elle but instead suggests they break up before he goes off to Harvard, where he becomes Vivienne's boyfriend. James later plays Elle's golfing, doubting father and still later shows up among Harvard Law's admissions group. In several roles, James has a chance to show he has all the right dance moves.
Colby's Warner looks terrific and sings well while moving from heartthrob to phony, would-be elite to rejected loser over the 21/2-hour show.
As Harvard Law professor Callahan, Lawrence Munsey shows off many facets of a complex lawyer at the top of his game, delivering a memorable "Blood in the Water," which describes the ruthlessness of the legal profession to his students. Later, Munsey's Callahan is even more menacing in "Whipped into Shape."
As the irresistible beauty salon delivery man, Adam Grabau does full justice to his abbreviated shorts to evoke appreciative hysteria from a large portion of the female audience members.
The most noteworthy male performance is Jeffrey Shankle's Emmett Forrest. Possessing one of the best voices in the cast, Shankle lends passion to his every song and delivers sincerity to the role of Emmett, who becomes increasingly devoted to Elle.
In a lighter number, "There! Right There!" centers on "possibly gay, possibly European" Nikos (David Gregory) and friend Carlos (Moses Rodriguez) to break open the legal case and evoke our laughter.
"Legally Blonde — The Musical" plays at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia through Sept. 2. To purchase tickets, call the box office at 410-730-8311.
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