Highly Recommended***** How ironic can a weekend be? Here it is, a weekend where I will be reviewing two different types of shows about the worlds most memorable magician, Harry Houdini, and Marriott Theatre of Lincolnshire opens their version of “Legally Blonde”, the musical. What makes it ironic is that prior to this production opening, in fact, when I heard that Marriott was even considering doing it, my first thought was that it would take a magician to make this show an enjoyable theatrical experience.. Well, lo and behold- under the guidance and creative mind of Director/Choreographer Marc Robin, Marriott has changed a “sows ear into a silk purse”!. I dislike the movie version although I found Reese Witherspoon adorable, and when the touring company came into Chicago as part of the Broadway in Chicago series, I came close to vowing never to sit through this show again. Well, that is all gone now!
The Marriott version, which will continue through April 1st, is as solid a performance as one can see on their stage. The energy level of this strong cast is far above normal and the talent assembled by Robin and staff is far superior to what they brought into our “loop” theaters and passed off as a Broadway touring company- the Marriott production far exceeds the movie or the original touring show. The story is based on the novel by Amanda Brown as well as the movie with the new book ( for the stage) by Heather Hach and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin. There are no truly stand-out songs, although “Legally Blonde” does remain for awhile, but the way Robin has staged each scene on the small, but versatile stage on Lincolnshire makes for a special treat. For those of us who saw the original version, and hesitated its return, what a wonderful surprise this production is. Chelsea Packared is a delight to watch on stage as Elle Woods, a UCLA student whose boyfriend breaks up with her to go to Harvard law School and tells her that she is not right for him- he needs a serious woman, Elle is heartbroken and with the help of her friends, gets accepted to law School so she can be with him.
What takes place from that point is her search for her own identity as he finds someone of “his type” on campus and she now has to prover herself to herself while also trying to win him back. Enter Emmett Forest ( a delightful David Larsen) a grad school TA who is hopeful of becoming a major lawyer so he can bring his family to a better life. Their professor, Professor callahan ( deftly handled by local favorite Gene Weygandt) is an egomaniac who truly feels that it is his way or the highway and decides to allow Elle to serve on his legal team for a major murder trial.
What goes on into and during the trial is a lot of strong comedy played well ( never over the top, yet campy enough to get even the non-loud laughers to open up a bit) and some little strong storys that tie into a very happy ending ( for those who deserve the “happy ending”). The cast memebrs, Cole Burden as her college love Warner huntington III; Vanessa Panerosa,Alexandra E. Palkovic and Tiffany Topol as her best buds who also serve as her Greek Chorus in order to help her make it through the transition from Sunny California to Massachusetts,,the adorable Christine Sherrill ( who does a show-stopping bit with her UPS man, Kyle played with great style and just the right comic touch by Steve Calzaretta) as beauty salon owner Paulette. I will tell you that these performer far outweight the material supplied to them, but once again, Robin waves his magic and presto- chango, a mediocre loser of a show becomes one that I suggest you all see. You will laugh and you will think, but the most imporatnt part of getting out to live theater, is feeling better when you leave the theater, than when you entered to entrance. This production will give you the lift you are in need of. There are some very adult themes in this production including a large number during the trial dealing with Homosexuality ( a laugh riot that will not offend) as Elle shows that street smarts far outweigh book smarts.
The ensemble is so energetic that you will wonder how they can keep up the pace for over two hours, but they do. A tip of the hat to: Amanda Tanguay,Stephanie Binetti, the adorable Summer Naomi Smart,Leslie Taylor,Lara Filip,Brian Michael Hoffman,Barbara Jo Bed narczuk,Amber Mak,James Lee GlatzJameson Cooper,Scott Alan Jones,Will Skrip,Matt Raftery,Laura savage and two of the greatest scene stealers in the world, Chico ( the original Broadway star) as Bruiser and Nellie as Rufus. Little kids and animals always do something to an audience ( oohs and ahhs and sometimes applause for doing nothing), but they are cute and they are, in this case important to the understanding of the characters we watch with them.
The sets at Marriott, due to the nature of the Arena Stage are fairly simple, but with the fly-ins and moveable pillaers, Thomas m. Ryan has used his small stage to perfection. Diane Ferry Williams, a fixture herself at marriott handles the lighting and Nancy Missimi ( regulars) the costumes. Ryan T. Nelson handles the musical direction and Robert E. Gilmartin an excellent blend of the sound- we never miss a word!.As always , sally Weiss makes sure that the props are the correct ones so as not to spoil the picture that Robin paints ( and he does paint a picture worth viewing).
This production will continue at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire through April 1st with performances as follows:
Wednesdays at 1 and 8 p.m.,Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 4:30 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 5 p.m.
Tickets ranbge from $40-$48 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 847-634-0200 or online at www.Ticketmaster.com or www.MarriottTheater.com Ther are student and senior discounts ( I suggest that you not bring little ones. In fact, I would use 13 or 14 years old as the youngets.
There are also dinner packages on Wednesday and Thursdays starting at $55 per is a great value and of course, plenty of free parking at Marriott Lincolnshire located in Lincolnshire at 100 Marriott Drive ( just east of rte 21/Milwaukee Avenue) and just south of Rte 22 ( half day Road) and restaurants on premise as well as along the route to get there. Enjoy! I know I did!