The film “Legally Blonde” was an instant hit in 2001, so it was no surprise Broadway producers jumped on the opportunity to take the comedy to the stage just six years later.
New York Times critic Ben Brantley accurately sized up the show as “high-energy, empty-calories, and expensive-looking hymn to the glories of girlishness.”
The show, which only managed a one-year run on Broadway but followed with several successful international tours, was perfect for Fort Lauderdale’s plucky Slow Burn Theatre Co., which has staked its reputation on producing those quality shows that often came up short in critics’ reviews or at the box office.
Becca Andrews makes her Slow Burn debut as the effervescent Elle Woods, the young socialite who follows her intended husband to Harvard Law School. Equally bubbly as her character, Andrews was immediately likeable, perfectly cast as the show’s can-do heroine. Also new to Slow Burn is Michael Focas as the graduate assistant Emmett Forrest, a handsome actor with a soaring baritone voice.
But, it was Jeanine Gangloff Levy as hairdresser Paulette and Clay Cartland as the hunky UPS driver Kyle who nearly upstaged the leads. Levy may have looked and sounded like the “Long Island Medium” Theresa Caputo, but when she belted out her numbers, she commanded the Amaturo Theater stage. Cartland, a Carbonell winner and master of physical comedy, showed off his strapping physique in signature UPS brown shorts and milked every moment on stage, drawing catcalls from both women and men in the audience.
And, then there were Butters, the confident long-haired chihuahua cast as Bruiser, and Mimi (“Rufus”), the reluctant English bulldog whose shyness elicited almost as much admiration from the audience as Cartland’s cocky walk across the stage.
Rounding out the massive 25-member cast—a record for Slow Burn—were a number of familiar South Florida faces: Sahid Pabon, who offered a breakout performance in Island City Stage’s “The Radicalization of Rolfe;” gender-bending Jerel Brown, who doubles as dance captain and assistant choreographer, and a veteran of several Slow Burn and Wick Theatre productions; and Jonathan Eisele, the gay pool boy Nikos, who, with James Giordano, had the jury wondering if their couple were merely “European” in one of the show’s most dazzling ensemble numbers.
Director and choreographer Patrick Fitzwater particularly makes the most of those fast-paced ensemble scenes. Unlike in other shows, his style of choreography is perfectly matched for the collegiate setting and pop-infused score of “Legally Blonde.” Music director Paul Tine equally makes the most of Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s high-energy songs from the pit located below the stage.
For this production, Fitzwater selected sets created by Music Theatre of Wichita. The handsome rolling pieces not only allowed for quick scene changes—and there were many—but gave the production the polished look and feel of a big Broadway show. Likewise, lighting designer Thomas Shorrock capably accentuated those scene changes and special effects with hundreds of carefully planned and executed lighting cues.
Now, here’s the verdict: Slow Burn Theatre Co.’s entertaining and energetic production of “Legally Blonde” is a must see show of the holiday season. It’s no “Hamilton” and there isn’t a history lesson, but who says Harvard Law School is boring, either?
Slow Burn Theatre Co. presents “Legally Blonde the Musical” in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale through Dec. 30. Tickets start at $47 at BrowardCenter.org.