“The day you broke my heart, you handed me the chance to make a brand new start.”
Elle Woods (the marvelous Ana Koshevoy) sings this generous, big-hearted break-up line to her former college sweetheart near the end of “Legally Blonde the Musical.” It’s a triumphant moment, and the audience at Durango High School Saturday night all but stood up and cheered.
Last weekend, Thespian Troupe 1096 opened this dance-driven show with energy and verve. It runs through March 25. Don’t miss it.
The original novel centered on a California sorority girl whose college sweetheart, Warner Huntington III (the suave Mason Stetler) dumps her as they are about to graduate. In search of status, money and a more serious mate, he heads to Stanford Law School. She follows.
Novelist Amanda Brown started the “Legally Blonde” craze in the late 1990s after she had dropped out of Stanford Law. Her letters home became the core of a girl-left-behind-only-to-save-herself novel. The book was optioned for a Hollywood movie before it was formally published in 2003.
Reese Witherspoon starred in the 2001 MGM movie, which traded Harvard for Stanford but kept the California roots.
The 2007 musical is better than both the movie and the novel. Recreated by screenwriter Heather Hach, a graduate of University of Colorado School of Journalism, the musical ripples through a fluid plot structure. Interesting reversals accompany the heroine’s increasing awareness and agency. Scenes morph into new directions, and overall, the lyrics brim with wit.
Word and musical motifs continuously reappear. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the frantic opening “Omigod” resurface periodically right into the finale.
Directed by Benjamin Mattson, the DHS production captures the kinetic energy of the work and today’s young and privileged class. Don’t fight it, accept it as a given – one of many that could pall if you fail to see the work as a sly cartoon musical.
Mattson and his creative team employ a minimalist approach to staging that works for such a complicated production. Scrims, photo projections, stairs on wheels, and flats that spin create the illusion of a California sorority, a restaurant, Harvard Yard, a classroom and a courtroom. Kudos to the technical team for a stylish and swiftly moving production. Stage Manager Mia Irwin also wins a brilliant multi-tasking award.
Music Director Paula Millar provides a through-line on the piano while having coached the singers to perform with confidence. Katharine Reed conducts a large orchestra, at times dominated by percussion, but that might be the sound system. Overall, the singers are over-amplified with an emphasis on the treble, making an already nasal vocal production style often shrill. It can be adjusted, unless the goal is a pulsating, rock ’n’ roll fortissimo.
Choreographer Hattie Miller deserves particular mention, as the show catapults from one dance number to another. Although dominated by a rock ’n’ roll style, Miller stretches the dance vocabulary to include quiet and even intimate moments.
The cast is superb, especially Liam O’Neil as Professor Callahan, Molly Christensen as Paulette Bonafonte and Curtis Salinger as Emmett Forrest.
Mattson’s direction of the Greek chorus (Elle’s sorority sisters) is particularly entertaining. By my count, they pop up about 10 times in different places. Usually unexpected and dramatically under-lit, the chorus adds immeasurably to the fundamental humor of the piece.
”Gay or European” wins the most hilarious production number award. Set in the courtroom where Elle has her penultimate triumph, it stops the show. The snappy witness interrogation has a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-esque spin – so pay attention.
Congratulations to Mattson and Troupe 1096.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.