'Legally Blonde' shimmys to the stage at Fair Park Music Hall

Written by DSM Columnists on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 7:28 AM

12:06 AM CDT on Wednesday, July 22, 2009
By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News
ltaitte@dallasnews.com

You may not come out of Legally Blonde humming the tunes, but this show will leave you as pumped as a two-hour cardiac workout.

The stage adaptation of the popular movie, a modest hit on Broadway, arrived at the Dallas Summer Musicals on Tuesday. It keeps up a breathless pace as heroine Elle Woods, the seemingly shallow blond bombshell who follows an ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School, discovers a whole new perspective on life.

Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, who rewrote their Sarah, Plain and Tall for the Dallas Theater Center this spring, tell the story mostly in song. Their lyrics, as cute and clever as Elle herself, are worthy successors to those of their great Broadway predecessors. They give us good tunes, too, but the incessant melodic patterns seldom relax and luxuriate. They just keep percolating like a triple shot of espresso.

The real mover of this theatrical whirlwind, though, is director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell. Over the last decade, he has established himself as one of the American theater's great storytellers through movement. Like the score, the dancing seldom settles into a stand-alone number, at least before intermission. Throughout the musical someone onstage is stepping, shimmying or gyrating in ways that move the plot along. The second act finally gives us some release with production numbers based on exercise videos, sexy poses and, of all things, Irish step dancing.

As Elle, Becky Gulsvig looks a lot like the film's Reese Witherspoon. She sounds even more like Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth. (Those with strong negative reactions to squeaks and other high pitches may find themselves at risk.) Gregg Barnes' costumes expand the boundaries of pink, mauve, hot pink and not-quite-crimson. Gulsvig wears them smashingly.

For those who crave a bit of old-fashioned fun from their musical comedies, preferably with a smidgeon of uplift and optimism, with a bevy of shapely young bodies to boot, Legally Blonde is guilty as charged.

PLAN YOUR LIFE Through Aug. 2 at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs 160 mins. $15 to $85. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.

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Theater review: 'A Chorus Line' reclaims its energy at Fair Park Music Hall

Written by DSM Columnists on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 8:07 AM

11:55 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 7, 2009
By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News
ltaitte@dallasnews.com

A Chorus Line is a unique musical, a perfect musical. I'm not sure, in retrospect, it's one of the great musicals.
The tour based on the recent New York revival arrived at Fair Park Music Hall on Tuesday. It has restored the show's vivid energy and sharp characterizations, and it makes nearly as good a case for the piece as possible. To paraphrase one of Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban's songs, it scores dance 10, acting 10, singing maybe a six.

At one point the longest running show in Broadway history, A Chorus Line grew out of workshop-style discussions organized by director-choreographer Michael Bennett. He asked professional dancers, gypsies from Broadway chorus lines, to talk about their lives. Then he, with librettists James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, made a show out of their stories.

The musical, without an intermission, is built around a day of auditions. It also takes its shape from the process of putting together a big production number, from the first rudimentary steps to the high-strutting, show-stopping climax.

The personalities of the individual characters are indelible, but over the years productions have tended to blur or exaggerate them. Bob Avian and Baayork Lee, both part of the original process in 1974 and '75, have whipped things back into shape beautifully.

Emily Fletcher, for instance, nails Sheila's aggressive sensuality without making her too hard, and Bryan Knowlton, as Paul in the first week of the current run, keeps his dignity while making his sometimes shocking self-revelations.

I've never seen a completely satisfactory Cassie. Robyn Hurder at least dances the role better than most. Part of the problem is inherent: The starring role in this musical is that of a woman who keeps insisting she doesn't have star power or star pretensions.

Hamlisch's tunes retain their hummability, albeit in very '70s fashion. Kleban's lyrics tell the dancers' stories with considerable wit. Most of all, Bennett knew how to build a dance number.

Still, a nagging little voice keeps telling me that a really great musical should have characters who interact with each other and should be about something other than getting a job, even if the people do their jobs for love.

PLAN YOUR LIFE Through July 19 at Fair Park Music Hall. 130 mins. $15 to $85. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.