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Review: Who needs Reese Witherspoon? Penn State cast shines in ‘Legally Blonde’

Lauren Echausse, along with co-star “Claire,” rehearse a scene from the Penn State Centre Stage production of “Legally Blonde the Musical’ at the Playhouse.”
Lauren Echausse, along with co-star “Claire,” rehearse a scene from the Penn State Centre Stage production of “Legally Blonde the Musical’ at the Playhouse.” Photo provided

Penn State Centre Stage is about to launch its 2018-19 season with a high energy production of “Legally Blonde,” a musical based on the film of the same name.

The show includes music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and a book by Heather Hach.

While the music felt a little too familiar and somewhat repetitive at Tuesday’s preview show at the Playhouse Theatre, the performances by the cast of Penn State were sensational, and that includes the splendid scenic design by Jenna Houck, the incredible costumes by Austin Rauch and colorful lighting by Hannah Fecko.

The performances once again prove that the musical theater program at Penn State is doing plenty right in attracting some incredibly talented young singers and actors.

In the preview performance, the cast was confidently led by Lauren Echausse as Elle Woods. A more perfect casting job cannot be imagined. This young performer made one forget about Reese Witherspoon’s film appearance. Echausse is a wonderful singer and seemed at home as the pink lady who is transformed by her experiences in love and loss. She is even believable as a Harvard Law student.

Emmett Forrest, the older-but-wiser law student who eventually learns about life from Elle,was sensitively portrayed by Aidan Cole.

Some truly top-notch performances were found in the smaller — but memorable — roles.

Head and shoulders above the rest was Jessica Ortiz as hairdresser Paulette. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Ortiz has landed a part on Broadway. It’s only a matter of time.

The unpleasant Callahan, the irascible, and downright mean lead law faculty member is deliciously portrayed by Tim Lewis. Lewis captures the essential evil of the character in his delivery of the song “Blood in the Water.”

Vivienne — the dark foil to Elle — was played with perfection by Becca Suskauer. Her voice was the clearest of all and had a sound unlike any other on stage.

Two stars of this production that cannot be ignored are the director/choreographer Christine O’Grady and Houck, the scenic designer. The pair helped the young cast keep the fast-paced show moving with high energy, and a constant splash of color. The staging was wonderful and the dances — including a spectacular dance with jump ropes — were unique and highly entertaining.

The “Greek Chorus” of sorority sisters added a lot of power to the show. Was it in the script or did the director create it? The program doesn’t say.

One quibble: Perhaps turn the the sound down a tad. I think it was loud enough for the residents of Centre County Memorial cemetery to hear what was going on.

The preview was well worth the price of admission, and it is likely that the excellent performances by the entire ensemble will improve with each performance, once it officially opens Friday.

If you go

What: “Legally Blonde the Musical”

When: through Oct. 11

Where: Playhouse Theatre, University Park

Info: theatre.psu.edu/blonde

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