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'Legally Blonde' star makes long show enjoyable

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The phrase "omigod" probably wasn't intended to be sung, but, in this show, it actually makes sense.

Along with colloquialisms set to music, there were also bedazzled costumes, dogs and, of course, pink.

"Legally Blonde," with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin and the book by Heather Hach, is based on the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon. The musical tells the story of Elle Woods, a sorority girl who enrolls in Harvard Law School in hopes of winning her ex-boyfriend back. The show, which debuted on Broadway in 2007, received seven Tony Award nominations and won three Laurence Olivier Awards.

What made this three-hour musical a treat to watch was its star, Micah Atkinson, who plays Elle. She was natural and poised, exuding a warmth that made her presence onstage endearing, not annoying.

It was a welcome contrast to the members of her posse, who had seemed to be competing with one another to be noticed during one number. The girls in the chorus gyrated so vigorously that the set started shaking as hard as they were.

Rather than seeming overly peppy, Elle's sorority sisters came off as fake.

No one watching seemed to mind. The audience oozed enthusiasm, erupting into cheers, whistles and applause throughout the show. There were even a few fist pumps and screams when the UPS deliveryman, played by Steve Brannon, strutted onstage wearing tight shorts and announced he had a package.

While the show is mostly a girl's world, the men in the cast deserve a shout-out. James Cameron Vance II, who played Elle's former flame, had a flawless voice, and Michael D. Gore's "Blood in the Water," a song about surviving law school, broke up fluffiness of the musical by introducing a sinister moment and character.

For the performers, the show was an exercise in musical theater belting, but some of the best singing occurred during "Take it Like a Man," an ode to department stores and the joys of shopping. Atkinson and her love interest, Emmett, played by Matthew Bryant, picked out new suits and sang in quieter harmony. The two have voices that blend together beautifully.

Unfortunately, there was one missing piece: Atkinson and Bryant lacked the romantic chemistry needed to make their relationship believable. Did they seem like best friends? Sure. But lovers? Not so much.

This complaint is minor, though, compared to the fun the show brings. It's difficult to watch this musical and not feel happy at the end, especially when everything wraps up so tidily and is celebrated with catchy tunes.

"Legally Blonde" is performed by the Charleston Light Opera Guild under the direction of Nina Denton Pasinetti and Bobby Hodges Jr.

The musical plays Saturday and on Aug. 3-4 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday and Aug. 5 at 3 p.m. at the Civic Center Little Theatre.

Reach Alison Matas at alison.matas@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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