Watching Leanne Hill Carlson as ditzy law student Elle Woods is pure, pink-tinged, empty-headed fun.
And since that’s just about all “Legally Blonde,” the musical that opened Friday at the Omaha Community Playhouse, is aiming for, the verdict on this entertaining show is a clear thumbs-up.
The musical is based on a 2001 movie in which Elle, a Malibu sorority queen, enrolls in Harvard Law School to try to win back the shallow guy who dumped her, Warner Huntington III. Witty music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, along with clever direction by Carl Beck, keep the laughs coming at a steady pace.
Carlson, a triple-threat actress, delivers humor, charm and a surprisingly effective character arc as Elle realizes she’s capable of more than being what Warner (Paul Hanson) dismissively calls a Marilyn (as in Monroe).
She also delivers the show’s best singing and some fancy stepping on character-defining numbers like “Omigod You Guys” and “Positive,” then hooks us along with nice-guy law student Emmett (Steve Krambeck) into falling for her.
She’s not the show’s only strong asset.
Theresa Sindelar is terrific as hapless hairdresser Paulette, whose life is transformed after Elle helps get her dog back from an ex-boyfriend, then teaches her the “Bend and Snap” move (terrific production number!) to snag a parcel deliveryman.
Matthew Pyle earned laughs as both Paulette’s sleaze ball ex and the strutting deliveryman, making a lot out of precious little on the script page.
Joe Dignotti got a huge round of applause as glowering Professor Callahan, whose credo for a good lawyer is developing a taste for “Blood in the Water.” Dignotti is a powerhouse baritone.
Just right in character roles: Jodi Vaccaro as Warner’s haughty replacement girlfriend, Vivienne; and Angela Jenson-Frey as murder defendant Brooke, an exercise guru who leads a snazzy jump-rope number to open Act 2.
Director Beck’s funny bits of business score for minor players as well, including Don Harris, Joey Galda and Noah Diaz as Harvard admissions directors; Megan O’Connell as a lesbian law student; and Isaac Reilly as a preening poolboy who has the courtroom guessing: Is he gay or just European?
That production number, “Scene of the Crime,” is among several ensemble scenes in which Beck and choreographer Melanie Walters get a payoff from attention to detail.
The show wasn’t without snags at a Thursday preview. Hanson and Krambeck, while talented and well cast, had some minor pitch problems early on. Elle’s sorority pals were fun, but their laugh lines and lyrics couldn’t always be clearly heard.
Cues between singers and Jim Boggess’ fine pit orchestra felt tenuous here and there. Those will no doubt get smoother as the show settles into its run.
Kudos to stage manager Mary Dew and crew for making a technically difficult show full of quick costume and set changes run smoothly. Jim Othuse’s set designs and Georgiann Regan’s costumes ingeniously meet those challenges.
Collectively, cast and crew make this pink souffle look easy. It isn’t. But it’s definitely a kick to watch.
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