by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
The Peach State Summer Theatre (PSST!) kicked off its 23rd season of professional summer musical theatre on Saturday June 2nd on the campus of Valdosta State University (VSU) with “Legally Blonde -The Musical” as the opening production. The Georgia Legislature has designated PSST! as The Official Musical Theatre of the State of Georgia. VSU has been using their wonderful indoor theatre space for summer productions since 2005, after many years of outdoor productions on historic Jekyll Island.
“Legally Blonde” started as a novel, was made into a very successful movie with Reese Witherspoon in 2001, and was transformed into a hit musical in 2007. Still a very popular musical, it has had many productions all over the country in the past couple of years.
The music and lyrics by Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe (of “Batboy: The Musical” fame), are upbeat and, along with the book by Heather Hach, very humorous. Briefly, the plot concerns the very lovely, very blonde Elle Woods (Andrea Rouch), who has led a charmed life during her college years at UCLA. Rouch, with a strong stage presence and voice, is terrific in this demanding role. Elle has majored in fashion merchandising, loves to dress in pink, and is the beloved president of her sorority. But her life changes after being cast off by her rich boyfriend Warner (Robert Teasdale) who is on his way to Harvard Law School. As he explains it, he needs someone serious beside him for the political career he has planned for himself, “a Jackie, not a Marilyn.”
The spunky Elle is determined to show Warner that she is more than a beauty with a million-dollar smile and body, and gets accepted into Harvard. While this California girl is out to show those New England stuffed shirts and Warner’s new fiancée, Vivienne (Sarah Michele) that a pampered blonde can have brains, it’s not easy when she comes to class attired in flamboyant pink and totally unprepared. Elle finds a new love interest in Emmett (Kelly Methven) a smart, handsome but easygoing teaching assistant, seriously applies herself to her studies, and finds a bright future awaits.
Colorful characters abound. Rose Cutuli Wray plays Paulette, a very funny robust Irish hairstylist whom Elle befriends and advises in the hilarious number “Bend and Snap,” which demonstrates how to revive a dormant love life. Paulette finds the love of her life with Kyle (Kevin Mark Harris), a handsome and muscular UPS deliveryman who really caused quite a stir with the audience when he made his entrance. Perhaps it was the short shorts he was wearing; are those regulation UPS issue, Kevin?
Matthew McGee as Professor Callahan was the picture of authority, and sang the very funny “Blood in the Water.” If you know any lawyer jokes, you know that number was about sharks.
Madison Johnson portrays Brooke Wyndham, a fitness queen accused of killing her husband, who refuses to relate an alibi that would likely save her life. The reason and outcome? Be prepared for a surprise.
The remaining members of the cast are constantly on and off the stage in various roles and costumes including Harvard students, marching band, cheerleaders, inmates, salespeople, waiters, and guards. Elle has a fantasy Greek Chorus of eight gorgeous and talented sorority sisters who act as backup for a number of her songs.
The important others who round out this energetic cast include: Sarah Mitchel, Megan Wheeler, Christiani Pitts, Rebecca Brunelle, Holly E. Dickerson, Sarah Beth Moseley, Will X. Stanley, Will Sedwick Dozier, Emmanuel Davis, Shelby Nichols, Daniel Fuentes, Isaac Sherman, Ethan Ray Parker, Ashley Anderson, and Leigha Witt.
The scenic design by Tom Hansen and lighting design by Genny Wynn depict many backgrounds and include Greek pillars for the sorority house setting, Elle’s “Hello Kitty” bedroom, and a somber Harvard classroom. Lighted bars frame the stage in changing colors. The many costumes by Esther Iverson range from colorful California wear to serious dark business suits.
The eight piece VSU orchestra under the direction of Paul J. Guilbeau was tucked away off stage and played to perfection. Eric Brandt Nielsen’s choreography used all the stage in the big numbers and had an excellent core of dancers to perform the magic.
This show has a lot of wit and many clever numbers. In addition to “Bend & Snap,” we particularly liked “Whipped into Shape.” performed by inmates in orange jump suits. An unexpected Irish Step Dance with Paulette and Kyle was a crowd pleaser. Another intriguing number was “Gay or European?” performed as an uproarious court scene.
The theatre space at Valdosta State University, with stadium seating and carpeted floors, is among the best we have ever experienced and we have been to theatres all over the country. No matter where you sit, you have a clear view of the stage, with no heads to worry about. The stage extends to within five feet of the front row and there are only twenty rows in the theatre. The seating is very comfortable, with room for people to pass you to reach their seats.
This is a professional production with more than sixty actors, dancers, singers, technicians and production staff. Six of the twenty-three performers are VSU students; four are VSU alumni who are involved in the theatre profession on a full-time basis all over the country. The rest of the cast and crew are from every corner of America, who auditioned with many others to earn one of the coveted roles in this excellently produced musical.
Two additional shows will open this summer. “Go Dog Go,” a musical especially for the younger set, opens on June 15th, while “The Light in the Piazza” debuts on June 22nd, with the season ending July 15th. For a complete schedule of shows and times, go to www.valdosta.edu/psst or visit facebook at www.facebook.com/PSSTGA. With a little planning you can take in a matinee of one show and see another in the evening.
Valdosta is a great destination for the whole family this summer. Theatre lovers will marvel at the three musicals and for the kids there is the “Wild Adventure Theme Park.” Peach State Summer Theatre is for everyone. They include performances interpreted in American Sign Language for the Deaf and also Pay What You Can performances; dates are available are on their website schedule. Look for reviews of “Go Dog Go” and “Light in the Piazza” in coming weeks.
LEGALLY BLONDE – The Musical
by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom