My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

Legally Blonde: sexual role reversal, song and dance, and tiaras

by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

When one is down or frustrated, there are three easy cures: 1) copious amounts of alcohol, 2) a makeover, or 3) an upbeat Broadway-style musical. The Lower Ossington Theatre puts a novel spin on all of the above with a revival of Legally Blonde.

The alcohol comes in the form of fancy fuchsia cocktails garnished with an umbrella. Purchasing the slushy treat also appears to earn one a sparkly tiara. The entire front row consisted of women crowned with tiaras and sipping on the pink concoctions. The female empowerment themes and the bouncing beats of the band seemed to resonate - the women had a blast. A man in our row had an entire slushy cup full of pinkified alcohol but no tiara. He still seemed to be having a great time.

The makeover is to Legally Blonde itself . The sets, costumes, lighting and sound have all be upgraded to create a visual and audio feast, LOT has been lavish this time around. There are still two basic problems that highlights can't solve: 1) the stage is too small for such a large and energetic cast so some of the choreography comes off as frenetic and busy rather than dazzling, and 2) the book and music are not Broadway's best.

As a Brodway-style musical, director Alan Kinsella and a talented cast inject as much reality into the characters as the material will bear. Fortunately whenever the plot or motivations make no sense or become predictable, there is quickly another diverting song and dance. Lead Madison Hayes-Crook has the toughest job; the majority of the cast could coast as cartoons but Elle, the blonde in Legally Blonde, needs to engage our hearts while ping ponging from bimbo to brainiac. Hayes-Crook is charming and energetic, but throbs with an intelligence that robs her character of the ditziness that is the main joke. When she does get to bite into a big number, as with the 11 o'clock title song, she is more than capable of holding the stage and gripping the audience. Alas the song is lyrically nonsensical and the melody is lifted (or vice versa) from the earworm theme song to Mrs Brown's Boys.

Hayes-Crook has genuine chemistry with Bryden Rutherford (Mary Poppins). He is an appealing and sexy nerd, his makeover scene drew wolf whistles from the cocktail-swilling girls and someone anonymous further back. And his clear ringing upper range has a strength that keeps the rom com role reversal from becoming comic castration.

The parallel love stories are more raucous. Lindsay Van Der Grinten has a gravelly voice and a casual sexiness that makes Paulette, a scene-stealing part, a scene-stealer. Her pairing with Adam Martino, great in multiple roles, as the impressively packaged UPS man Kyle, delivers real heat despite its caricatured presentation. It is the first time that I have actually enjoyed Irish dancing.

It is the tangential gay love story that is truly rousing. Robbie Fenton, who handled the heavy dancing in Mary Poppins, wields narcissistic machismo to lend weight to the anthemic "Gay or European." When Travis Paul, who earlier flexes his machismo in a too-brief cameo as an irresistible white trash hunk, explodes into a swishy sinuous declaration of passion, the audience erupts in genuine joy. Allison Wither is a whirlwind of energy in need of a bigger part, and I kept hoping that her teased lesbianism would be satisfied by the tall drink of water that is Breanne Dietrich. Dietrich has only a few solo vocal lines and it would have been wonderful to hear more of that rich sound.

As a cure for what ails one, Legally Blonde fits the bill. The first half is amusing, but the second takes off like an effervescent rocket and never lets up. When Elle finally finds herself, Legally Blonde finds its center and the heart buried inside the candy-pink coating beats with a glittering glow as shiny as a tiara.

Legally Blonde continues until Sun, Nov 22 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave.