As a person more fond of stories about the secret darkness lurking inside the human soul than about the uplifting strength of the human spirit, it goes almost without saying that I have never seen the movie "Legally Blonde." The touching journey of Elle Woods -- a ditzy blonde turned lawyer for the sake of love -- is exactly the type of story I do my best to avoid. So as the house lights winked out and the audience settled into their seats in Hampton's auditorium, I knew only that I was in for a deplorably pink-shrouded evening.
I am happy to say that my negative attitude did not outlast the show's opening number. In fact, I don't believe my mind strayed beyond the stage for the remainder of the first act. Put simply, "Legally Blonde" was engrossing. The cast was passionate, the action was ceaseless, the vocals were spot-on, and from chorus lines to crooning to whimsical ballads about the virtues of the Irish, the jokes never fell flat. Sometimes sweet, sometimes snide, and occasionally delightfully bizarre, by the middle, the musical was such fun I would hardly have minded if the cast had abandoned the plot altogether and simply carried on with the humor.
That's not to say, however, that the other aspects of "Blonde" were disappointing. Though Hampton's auditorium could be aptly described as "cavernous," with a stage to match, the cast never struggled to fill the space. On the contrary, the set nearly overflowed with color and motion during ensemble scenes, while simultaneously retaining intimacy when needed.
Much of the credit for this goes to Hampton's stage crew, who made certain that the quiet spiraling of set pieces on and off stage remained inconspicuous as the action continued around them. So masterful was their execution that the musical seemed almost like one continuous take, despite the almost innumerable scene changes (the tally in my notebook read thirty-three by the time the curtain fell). Throughout it all, the show's protagonist, Elle Woods (vividly portrayed by Cassie Lombardo), never struggled to stand out among the crowd--her blonde locks and uniformly pink wardrobe distinguished her even from afar.
So gloriously energetic, musical and enveloping was the majority of the show that I actually felt let down when the chorus had to stop to advance the plot. Though the acting never faltered and the scenes were well-executed, without the punch of dialogue slipped in between refrains and the thrill of split-second costume changes, the show lost some of the color that made it so gripping. Nevertheless, such breaks in revelry were uniformly brief, and the enthusiasm of the actors never waned--nor, I should mention, did the enthusiasm of the musicians in the pit, who played for the majority of the musical and seemed perfectly willing to carry on for the rest of the night.
Though Legally Blonde ultimately adhered to the basic conventions of any romantic comedy, the wit and drive Hampton brought to its production made the story unexpectedly exciting. The talented cast could probably have delivered a strong performance simply because they nailed the big points, but they brought the show to the next level by devoting just as much time and effort to the details. I can't say that "Blonde" made a beaming optimist out of this devout cynic, but its cheery atmosphere and rewarding conclusion did significantly brighten my mood for the evening. And, while I'm not proud of it, I'll admit that I let fly a few verses from select songs during the days following the show.
In private, of course.
"Legally Blonde" ran April 5-12.
The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson. First Published May 23, 2013 3:15 PM