‘Legally Blonde’ // Roma Performing Arts

‘Legally Blonde the Musical’ was fulfilling.

In 2019, Roma Performing Arts (RPA) are celebrating over 50 years of entertainment in regional Queensland. As part of their line-up, they presented ‘Legally Blonde the Musical’, an upbeat and contemporary musical about a young woman discovering her independence and flare. Carefully co-directed by Ella O’Brien, and skilfully co-directed and choreographed by Emma Murray, the audience was absorbed by every song, punch line and dance move.

Despite the regional location of this organisation, and only a small group of hardworking volunteers behind it, RPA have presented a production that was highly engaging, polished and most of all, inspiring. Tracey O’Brien, the producer, took the closing performance as an opportunity to announce her resignation as president of the not for profit. From dressing the auditorium to stocking the bar, O’Brien was hands-on in all areas of the production and her dedication to its success was evident throughout the show.

The set, built by Bill Bendall, was stagnant, but multipurpose, allowing the focus to remain on the story at hand. However, a strategic “Elle” sign illuminated the auditorium above the action and gave the whole stage a “Barbie” box vibe. Set pieces and props flowed on and off seamlessly, as characters, rather than the crew, took on the responsibility of changing the scenes.

The costumes, sourced and created by Karen Bendall, followed the intention of the playwright, with no unnecessary risks taken in relation to style or colour. A highlight of Bendall’s skill were the performers with multiple roles, whom were almost unrecognisable after full changes in wardrobe and makeup.

Sound and lighting were elegantly designed, operated and handled by local student Amy York, and her predecessor Tony Kerr. Making use of LEDs embedded in the set, and a double spot, York and Kerr’s design embellished the show’s already noticeable flow, and breathed life into the set’s otherwise monochromatic colour palette. Using the lighting and sound to shift scenes is no easy feat, but York and Kerr’s work reflects skill beyond their years.

The vocal direction was coordinated by Catherine Cooper and Bree Hall, both of whom also featured in strong supporting roles for the show. Cooper and Hall’s assistance was most notable in the large group numbers, such as “Omigod” and “What You Want”, where the harmonies were strong and the diction cohesive.

Local senior high school student, Sarah Hall, leads the cast as protagonist Elle Woods, a recent college graduate on her path to law school. Hall carried the show with confidence, witty humour and the character’s signature poise. Even as a young performer, Hall is no newbie to the stage, with credits including Wendy in Peter Pan, and Cousin It in The Addams Family. The character of Elle Woods is often mistaken and portrayed as simplistic and superficial, but Hall gave the character dimension. Bringing together her own graceful nature, and a professional level of comedic timing, Hall has near perfected the Elle Woods made famous by the much-adored Reese Witherspoon.

Supporting Hall in her performance was the dynamic trio comprising of Ella O’Brien, Emma Murray, and Kirsten Steinohrt in their respective roles as Pilar, Serena and Margot. Whilst O’Brien and Murray juggled roles both on and off stage, they and Steinohrt delivered the goods and proved their abilities as triple threats. Their energy was infectious, and notable in the opening number “Omigod” when they were joined by an ensemble of dancers. As quality performers, O’Brien, Murray and Steinohrt were able to maintain their own unique flavour, and still present as united throughout.

Leading the “adult” cast of the show were Jessica Selmes, as Paulette Bonafonte, and Sharon Purcell, as Vivienne Kensington. Selmes’ Paulette was just the right amount of trashy, with leopard print everything and super high heels. Her vocals were some of the most outstanding in the show, giving a softer and more emotional portrayal than others who have filled the role. Purcell’s Vivienne was as harsh and cold as one would expect, with an extra level of sass highlighted by the age difference between herself and Sarah Hall (Elle Woods). The audience was none the wiser that Purcell was a first-time musical theatre performer, with the vocal chops, and stamina to pull it all off.

A surprising feat for Roma Performing Arts was their collection of quality male actors, each of whom gave convincing and thoughtful performances in their roles. With James Balagbis as Warner Huntington III, Mackenzie Brider as Emmett Forrest, Warren Humphreys as Professor Callahan, to name just a few, they had the audience laughing, crying and squirming.

As one of this reviewer’s favourite modern musicals, ‘Legally Blonde the Musical’ is the humorous feel-good show of the decade, and RPA have presented a rendition that can only be described as fulfilling. The cast were unified, the engagement was undeniable, and the story moved effortlessly. It had just the right amount of trashy, and a whole lot of pink.

‘Legally Blonde the Musical’ performed from Thursday, May 16th until Saturday, May 18th 2019 at the Roma Cultural Centre, Roma. For more information about Roma Performing Arts and their upcoming productions visit www.romaperformingarts.com


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