The historic and stately 80-year-old Potter Auditorium adds to the many merits of the Wit's End Theatre's colorful production of the popular Broadway musical "Legally Blonde."
Directed by Kathleen Keech, "Legally Blonde" is based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the 2001 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film.
Kathleen Keech with an impressive background in the performing arts, including numerous professional acting credits, is a noted director and choreographer, as well as a certified and registered Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) speech and theatre judge.
The musical "Legally Blonde" opened on Broadway in April of 2007, earning over $1 million a week. The show received seven Tony nominations and numerous other theatrical awards during its initial run of 30 previews and 595 performances. The musical was also filmed for television. International productions have followed, along with community and school productions.
Locally, "Legally Blonde" opened before an appreciative audience in Chatfield on Friday night, Aug. 1, and was presented again on Aug. 2, 7, 8 and 9.
The annual Chatfield Musical for Western Days is a longtime tradition started in 1971 by Donald Johnson, son of Mrs. Pat Johnson and the late Charles Johnson, Sr. The first production was "Girls Ahoy." Members of the Johnson family have remained active participants and sponsors throughout the following years for Western Days.
We enjoyed a brief visit with Mrs. Pat Johnson at the opening-night performance and was pleased, but not surprised, to learn several from the Johnson family are again active this year in "Legally Blonde."
The engaging story line focuses on Elle Woods (Gabrielle Hensrud), an attractive, blonde young lady who loves pink. Elle enters Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend, Warner (Levi Cole). She comes of age with the awareness law has power, which Elle uses to defend Brooke Wyndham (Elizabeth Fuglestad) at a contentious murder trial.
Dr. Al Dietz, on behalf of the Wit's End Theatre, welcomed the audience before Tyler Simpson at the piano and Valerie Wilson at the keyboard sounded the opening notes of the show and the upbeat opening production number "Omigod You Guys" featuring Margo (Tess LaFreniere) Serena (Maggie Keech) and Pilar (Blair Crouch), along with Elle Woods, store manager (Stephanie Copeman) and salesgirl (Pamela Lisowski). We might add, the brown puppy is a scene stealer.
Elle and Warner's number, "Serious," projects a romantic ambience until Warner announces he is breaking up and heading to Harvard. Elle is crushed. She then elects to try Harvard as well.
A stellar cast of imaginatively-costumed players and creative crew again bring theatrical fun to the Potter stage.
The best delivered lines of the evening, however, include those of Dan Conway as Kyle, the handsome UPS guy ("I've got a package"), Chuck Johnson and Jim Strand as Harvard officials (who also dance), Al Dietz as Dewey, Valerie McCook as the Judge and Teresa Becker as Paulette, the talkative beautician with a Brooklyn accent and visually-striking costumes.
Paulette is a breath of excitement. She brings merriment to the production. For us, her role is reminiscent of the talented actress Laine Kazan (Aunt Frieda Fine) on the TV-sitcom "The Nanny" with Fran Drescher.
Levi Cole as Warner exhibits a strong stage presence with the good looks and athletic moves of a leading man, while Gabrielle Hensrud as Elle handles her role with grace and style.
Again Tyler Simpson is welcomed with his magic-like musical talents. This year, however, we seem to miss the rich, full-bodied tones of last year's pit orchestra, complete with the amazing drum work.
The music and creative choreography help set the show's pace and tempo, resulting in a stage picture of colors in motion.
The bright, moveable set pieces work well on the basic simplicity of the open stage, along with the use of several levels for a variety stage entrances and exits. The varied hues of the costumes and hand props help point up the engaging stage business.
The assembled cast for the finale becomes an eye-appealing stage picture, balanced, colorful and memorable — a Kodak moment.
The resulting well-staged curtain call afforded the appreciative audience an opportunity to share the upbeat energy of the production with resounding rounds of applause for the praiseworthy efforts of the cast, crew and director.
Accolades to House Manager Kelly Manahan and to those who also help make attending Wit's End Theatre productions so enjoyable and rewarding.