Review: Omigod, Legally Blonde is Serious Summer Fun
When I first set up this blog with my list of theatre companies and a schedule of upcoming shows, the one omission I got heat for was Summerstock, Calgary’s only outdoor musical theatre company. Summerstock brings youth from age 14 to 20 together from all over Calgary to put on a Broadway show at Olympic Plaza every year. This not-for-profit organization, a programme of the Westmount Charter School Society supports budding young actors, provides scholarships and gives them a venue to showcase their talent by teaming them up with professional design, instruction and technical support. They start rehearsing in September for their summer show, so it’s quite a commitment on the part of all involved, parents included, no doubt. In 2004, Summerstock was awarded the Downtown Calgary Association’s Vitality Award for working to enhance the image of Calgary’s downtown core. In 2012 they got a Calgary2012 Grassroots Inspired Grant.
I went to this year’s performance of Legally Blonde The Musical last Wednesday (opening night) with seven people from The Calgary Musicals Meetup Group – one of our more popular outings. According to Wikipedia, “Legally Blonde is a musical with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Hach. The story is based on the novel Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown and the 2001 film of the same name. It tells the story of Elle Woods, a sorority girl who enrolls at Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend Warner. She discovers how her knowledge of the law can help others, and successfully defends exercise queen Brooke Wyndham in a murder trial”.
Not having seen the movie (or read the book), I thought this was going to be a show that was both silly and sexist. I was only half-right. Certainly, lightweight fashion-queen Elle’s attempts to show Warner how “serious” she is by getting into and succeeding at Harvard Law School are silly – and rather unbelievable (particularly in the courtroom scene in Act II). However, while Elle’s motives are originally shallow and misplaced, she discovers that she has a brain and she can use her strengths to be successful in a world where she really doesn’t fit in, and in fact she is successful just because she has knowledge and talent the others don’t. OK, so maybe a finely-tuned “gaydar” and strong hair and fashion sense don’t constitute “important” and certainly not “serious” skills, but what the heck, Legally Blonde still sends a positive message that “being true to yourself never goes out of style”.
I thought Summerstock, under the direction of Jim Senft and the musical direction of Merrilie Stonewall, did a great job with the show. It was a good, fun, high-energy choice for a large, young cast, especially one with lots of young women. The show has lots of ensemble numbers and many lead and minor roles for both both sexes. It’s also a great choice for an outdoor summer show, because it doesn’t require too much concentration. If you can’t make out all the words – there were a number of issues with sound the night I was there that hopefully they’ve sorted out by now – you can still follow along, even if you don’t know the story.
The show was well cast with strong acting and singing throughout – although perhaps some tuning issues due to the sound problems. The night I went had Jessica Scott as Elle, Austin Rosenfeld as Warner, Nick Driscoll as Emmett, Niko Combitsis as Professor Callahan, Taryn Haley as Paulette, Khadija Mbowe as Vivienne and Stuart McDougall as Dewey. RJ Johnson-Brown was hilarious as UPS guy Kyle and gay boyfriend Nikos (he was also the assistant choreographer) and the two dogs were a hoot. The leads are doubled so you might get different people on different nights. I was most impressed with the ensemble numbers and the caliber of the dancing, with choreography by Yoshi Kaga – some of the best I’ve seen on Calgary amateur or professional stages. Lots of talent there behind the scenes and on-stage.
All in all it was a great night out. I’d go back and see it again if I weren’t fully booked with other musical theatre outings all week (Mary Poppins, The Critter Awards, Fame and The Fringe). I really enjoyed sitting outside with the wind and the weather, which fortunately cooperated for us. It looks like it’s going to be pretty nice for the rest of the run as well, so you might need to book your tickets ahead or line up early to get a seat. They do not provide refunds if the show is cancelled due to rain (or hail or snow, this being Calgary), but will try to get you in for a later show instead, so keep that in mind. Regardless of the forecast, make sure you bring a jacket and rain gear because it gets cool when the sun goes down and there’s always a risk of thundershowers this time of year. Consider bringing your own food if you don’t have time for dinner – there’s a chip/pop stand there but that’s it.
Legally Blonde The Musical runs until this Saturday August 4th at Olympic Plaza at 6:36 PM (!?). Tickets are $12 in the assigned seating area (+$3 for Ticketmaster if you buy through them) and free (donations encouraged) in the grassy amphitheatre to the sides of the stage (or standing up behind the seats). It’s worth paying for a seat, because it’s more comfortable, the sound is better and the sight lines from the side are not great – you miss some of the action from that angle. If you’re going to sit in the free section, bring a low folk-festival-type chair or a blanket for comfort.
For more information and tickets go to: Summerstock.