Kaleigh Sullivan, Megan Hofschulte and Megan Traut (l. to r.), as Serena, Elle, and Pilar in University Theater's "Legall y Blonde."
University Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde, the book turned movie turned musical, made its exuberant debut at the Wisconsin Union Theatre on April 29 for a short but perky run. In a marked departure from much of its previous programming, the department’s all-student cast mounted a traditional Broadway musical with all the bells and whistles – huge choruses, dozens of costumes, extensive choreography, lightning fast scene changes and a score that required lots of excellent singing voices. The result, a relentlessly endearing rom-com built around a spoiled sorority girl finding herself and her true love at Harvard Law School, is nothing short of spectacular.
As Elle, the Delta Nu from Malibu who is spurned by her shallow and ambitious love because she doesn’t look the part of a serious senator’s wife, Megan Hofschulte is stunning. The true star of the show, she is poised, confident, charming, and note-perfect. Appearing in virtually every scene, her strong, confident voice sails out to the audience from underneath an enormous blonde wig and a variety of pink, very pink, and intensely pink outfits. Her comedic timing and buoyant characterization lifted the show’s narrative above the cliché, filling the stage with heart. (And she did it in heels. While carrying A DOG.)
Having a powerhouse star to anchor a show like this is key, but a much greater feat was filling the entire roster with actors, singers and dancers who were perfectly cast, delivering polished, professional performances in both large and small parts. The Greek Chorus of Delta Nu sorority sisters (Kaleigh Sullivan, Megan Traut and Alyssa Beasley) who follow Elle from California to the Ivy League, counseling and consoling her along the way, each gave sassy, playful performances. It was a delight each time they appeared onstage for a pep talk. Kate Mann, as the quirky hairdresser Paulette Bonafonte, was equally entertaining. Her longing for a dreamy Irish love was as charming as her tentative attempts at the “Bend and Snap,” pursuing her beefcake UPS delivery man (played to hilarious perfection by Jack Ruocco). And as the exercise guru trying to beat a murder rap, Amy Gottlieb shone, singing about her plight while leading a grueling aerobics routine with jump ropes.
The men in the cast were equally impressive, led by Michael Costanzo, the loveable underdog who mentors Elle and eventually partners with her to win the big case and her heart. Riley Faison played the ruthless, unscrupulous law professor with a smug sneer that permeated his strong singing voice. And as the conceited and confused Warner Huntington III, Chris Fechtelkotter brought just enough humanity to the role that when he begged Elle to come back to him, her rejection stung a bit, instead of feeling like just desserts.
Part of the joy in watching this production was in reveling in the details. Director/choreographer Pam Kriger imbued every moment of this already complicated show with specificity, precision and humor, making the performance greater than its source material. Even the beats that were less successful — Paulette’s trailer park inhabiting ex, portrayed as a crazed muppet, and the strangely joyless homage to Riverdance that sent the entire company step-dancing across the stage — could not derail the momentum of the show or dampen the audience’s enthusiasm for Elle and her journey.
This production of Legally Blonde is such a success — in great contrast to the touring production that came to Overture in 2011 — because it is filled with heart. It replaces easy stereotypes and clichés with genuine emotion and gives audiences real heroes and heroines to cheer for.
Legally Blonde has one more performance, Sunday, May 3 at 2 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union’s Shannon Hall.