Friday, April 12, 2013

Legally Blonde at TMP

The News Tribune, April 12, 20-13

Leah Wickstrom is Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde" at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Photo by Kat Dollarhide.
“Legally Blonde” the musical at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is a high-energy song and dance fest replete with silly jokes from sorority girls and scheming law students. Based on the popular film starring Reese Witherspoon, it’s the story of Elle Woods (Leah Wickstrom), the epitome of a ditzy blonde who goes to Harvard Law in order to recapture the love of the boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Steve Barnett), who dumped her. Elle turns out to be a much shrewder lawyer than anyone expects. In the early scenes it seems that everyone is either superficial or nasty, but soon we see that it’s all being played tongue-in-cheek and the audience is let in on the joke. In real life, for instance, Elle would never have gotten into Harvard, or if she had gotten in it would have been because her daddy paid somebody off, not because of her cleverness. 

Wickstrom has the face and the figure and, of course, the blonde locks. In fact, she looks a lot like Reese Witherspoon. So perfectly does she fit the part physically that it would be easy to assume she was cast for her looks. But she also has the voice and rhythm, the moxie and the acting skills to captivate the audience. 

Barnett too could have been cast for his looks, but proves to be a skilled actor. He is tall and handsome, and he does a stellar job of bringing his character to life. He plays Warner as almost despicable, haughty and self-absorbed; yet underneath that slick exterior is likeable young man.

Leah Wickstrom and Bruce Haasl; F. James Raasch and Brittany Henderson in background. Photo by Kat Dollarhide.
The other lead character is Emmett Forrest (Bruce Haasl), the good guy you can’t help but cheer for. Haasl is a newcomer to TMP, but for years he’s been a mainstay at Olympia’s Capital Playhouse, where he has wowed audiences with knockout performances in “The Buddy Holly Story,” “Rent,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and many more. He has an amazing voice, and my only regret is that he doesn’t get to solo enough in this role.

Also loveable is Lisa Wright Thiroux as Paulette Buonofuonte the hairdresser. She plays this streetwise city gal with gusto. Her lead on the song “Ireland” is one of the highlights of the first act.

Deserving of special recognition are Carlos Barajas and Arthur Cuadros for their raucous dance number on the entertaining song “Gay or European?” These guys brought the audience to their feet.

Jeff Stvrtecky’s band is outstanding, but they were too loud opening night and overpowered the singing in some places. There were also a lot of audio problems including crackling speakers and problems with sound balance that hopefully have been worked out for subsequent shows.

Jon Douglas Rake’s choreography is terrific and there is some great dancing from the ensemble and notably from Wickstrom, whose moves are strong, rhythmical and snappy.

Will Abrahamse’s set is beautiful and functional. It easily changes from a sorority house to the Harvard Law School, and the costumes are colorful and inventive. Elle’s outfits range from the sublime to the ridiculous, her drum majorette outfit is magnificent, and she wears enough hot pink for an entire Delta Nu sisterhood.
Sellout audiences are expected throughout the run, so get your tickets early.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through April 28
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20-$29
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

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