Ti-Ahwaga’s ‘Legally Blonde’ is a frothy delight

Reviewed by George Basler

A lot of words have been used to describe law school. Competitive, demanding and cutthroat come immediately to mind.

But who knew it could be so much fun?

Well, if the court pleases, let me introduce into evidence the Ti-Ahwaga Community Players production of Legally Blonde that opened this past weekend (March 2-4) at the troupe’s Owego playhouse and will run through March 18.

The production, which uses Harvard Law School as a backdrop, is a splashy crowdpleaser of a musical that provides an invigorating tonic for the late winter blahs.

Quite frankly I’m in kind of a shock writing this. I’m normally not a big fan of Broadway musicals that have been spun off from Hollywood movies. And Legally Blonde, despite the comic skills of Reese Witherspoon, was only so-so on the big screen.

Surprisingly, though, the story works better in the musical comedy format. The peppy Ti-Ahwaga cast, under the skillful direction of Brian Flynn, provides an enormously entertaining creamsicle of a show.

Not that Legally Blonde will make you forget Rodgers and Hammerstein. Despite some clever lyrics, the songs by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin are forgettable outside the context of the show. The book by Heather Hach, as might be expected, relies on caricatures.

What carries Legally Blonde is its jauntiness and infectious good-natured tone, which win you over despite yourself. The Ti-Ahwaga production catches this tone perfectly.
The show — inspired not only by the movie, but Amanda Brown’s comic novel — is a version of the well-worn story of the seemingly ditzy blonde (think Judy Holliday) who turns out to the smartest person in the room.

In the show, Elle Wood, a sorority star, enrolls in Harvard Law School in hopes of winning back her narcissistic ex-boyfriend, Warner, who is also a student there. Initially greeted with derision by her classmates, Elle wins them over, wins the big case and finds true love in the form of Emmett, a good-hearted teaching assistant who sees her potential.

Along the way Elle tangles with a nasty professor and becomes friends with a brassy Boston beautician who has love troubles of her own.

Squeezed into the show are messages about female empowerment, being true to yourself and, to cite a cliché, not judging a book by its cover. This could all seem cloying and fake if Legally Blonde wasn’t so charming.

In the lead role, Caitlin Westfall delivers an ebullient performance. She sings well and has excellent comic skills. The performance makes you root for Elle even as you chuckle at her over-the-top Valley Girl personality.

The secondary leads provide engaging performances as well. They include Gil Choi as the ex-boyfriend, Nicholas Sewchek as the teaching assistant and Annie Fabiano as Elle’s chief rival.

Two standouts are Christine Havens-Hafer as the love-struck beautician, Paulette, and James T. Cornell as the egotistical and, ultimately, sleazy law professor. They are helped by having two of the best numbers in the show, “Ireland” and “Blood in the Water.”

Others in the large, 18-member cast provide a large amount of energy and talent as they play Elle’s classmates and a Greek chorus of sorority sisters who pop up to comment on the action and give Elle advice. The show would flounder without their spritely contributions.

Flynn’s direction is solid throughout. While some of the dance numbers are a bit pedestrian, they are certainly energetic. I especially liked the staging of the second-act number “Gay or European?” that humorously skewers political correctness. An eight-person orchestra under the direction of Nick Pauldine provides a fine accompaniment.

A special mention goes to Andrew Hafer who makes the most of the small role as a hunky delivery man who shows up to win Paulette’s heart.

And watch for the two dogs, Elle’s chihuahua and Paulette’s (I believe) bulldog, who do their best to steal their scenes. Alas, they don’t get billing in the program. Bad agents, I guess.

An interesting aside: Stanford University was the original site for the story, but the killjoys at the university denied permission. The University of Chicago then turned thumbs down because of the way the professor was portrayed. Finally some small school in the Boston area gave the OK. (Maybe the folks at dear old Harvard DO have a sense of humor.)

The final verdict is that Legally Blonde is just plain fun with a capital “F.” I rest my case, your honor.

IF YOU GO: Performances of Legally Blonde will be staged at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 18 at the  Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and ages 60 and up); call 687-2130 from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays, or visit  www.tiahwaga.com.

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