What makes a musical culturally popular? This is a psychological question of the highest order and one that is on display at the Marriott Lincolnshire in the form of Legally Blonde, The Musical. This little juggernaut defied its critics when it premiered on Broadway several years ago to become an audience favorite. Much credit has to be given to MTV which taped the production for its network as well as airing a "reality" show in which a replacement for Laura Bell Bundy, the original stage Elle, was sought. This allowed the public to decide for itself whether or not Legally Blonde was worthy of a hit run and the response was sensational, and for good reason.
Legally Blonde, as both a film and musical, has a serious message for its core audience. It is one of overcoming prejudice, finding self confidence, trusting in your friends and becoming true to yourself. Elle Woods proves that even in an otherwise perfect exterior, insecurity in one's self worth can lead to a path of uncertainty. Legally Blonde contains a great score by Laurence O'Keefe and Neil Benjamin and a very tight and coherent book by Heather Hatch.
Seeing both the original Broadway cast and the first national tour, this show is one that will surely have staying power and the Marriott Lincolnshire's new production is proof of that. Director Marc Robin has given us a more intimate Blonde, which allows us to connect and care about the outcome of these characters. Robin has also assembled an amazing cast that rivals that of the original Broadway production. Triple threat Chelsea Packard gives us a very vulnerable version of Elle Woods. Ms. Packard is perfectly cast and contains a phenomenal voice and an infectious stage presence. Unlike some of her predecessors, Ms. Packard gives Elle a very grounded, relateable quality that is instantly likeable and very soulful. She has great on-stage chemistry with David Larson, whose Emmett needs Elle has much as she needs him. One of our greatest actors, Gene Weygandt gets to show off his evil side as the ethically challenged professor whose actions, as deplorable as they are, shows Elle what she is actually made of. One of my personal favorites, Summer Naomi Smart (whose performance as Sweet Charity is still among the best), goes all out as fitness guru turned would-be felon, Brooke.
The most exciting revelation of this production is Christine Sherrill who steals every scene she is in as the lovelorn Paulette. Ms. Sherrill balances the comedy with sincerity and contains a alto belt not heard since, dare I say it, Betty Buckley.
The rest of the ensemble gives it their all in this demanding show. The energetic cast tackles the vibrant choreography with ease and the scene transitions, a Robin stable at the Marriott, are seamless. This production could benefit from a few additional cast members, especially with the guys as they double and triple up on parts a little too often to be believable. Musical director Ryan T. Nelson has allowed the leads to find their own nuances in their solos and Patti Garwood expertly leads the Marriott orchestra. I would be remiss not to mention the pooches, Chico and Nellie who have their parts down cold and have obviously spent hours and hours on character development……ie, kibble.
Legally Blonde, The Musical runs through April 1, 2012 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, Illinois. For more information and tickets, please visit www.MarriottTheater.com or call the Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847-634-0200.
Related: ChicagoPride.com Interview with Chelsea Packard