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REVIEW: “Legally Blonde” a high-energy, big-hearted success

The cast of Align Entertainment’s Legally Blonde: The Musical. Photo: Anita Alberto Photography.

Far more than a lightweight “bubble gum musical”, Legally Blonde delivers an engaging message of equality and empowerment – a powerful punch delivered inside a pink velvet glove. It’s a deliriously delightful show full of toe-tapping tunes and fist-pumping moments from start to finish.

Again, Align Entertainment has delivered a polished, people-pleasing production to the Michael J. Fox Theatre, and collapsed the distance between Burnaby and Broadway to zero. The performances are all superb, the staging and choreography spot-on, and the band outstanding.

The show follows the overall storyline of the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie – with sorority sister Elle Woods applying to study law at Harvard, and defying everyone’s expectations of what a California blonde dressed head-to-toe in pink can achieve.

While it is, on the face of it, a classic romantic storyline, with Elle’s assault on Harvard fuelled by her desire to snare her dream guy Warner, Legally Blonde is really about female empowerment, and Elle’s realization that she has value far beyond whatever man she may happen to be with (or chasing).

The opening number, “Omigod You Guys” sets the bar high. Elle (Julia Ullrich) bursts forth from her crowd of sorority sisters, heads for the mall, takes down a duplicitous salesgirl with her expert fashion knowledge – and throws in a crowd-thrilling quick change… all in one dazzling, high-energy number.

From there on, the pace never flags as we meet Warner, the smarmy, self-centred focus of Elle’s attraction (played to perfection by Stuart Barkley); Callahan (played the multitalented Chris King), the formidable law professor who gives his class a lesson in ruthlessness with the razor-sharp “Blood in the Water”, and Emmett (Victor Hunter, who shone in last year’s Cry-Baby: The Musical, for which he just won an Ovation award), the smart and sensitive student of Callahan’s who is the clear choice over Warner for Elle’s affections.

Despite following many of the tropes of romantic musical comedy, Legally Blonde‘s real pleasures derive from how it defies and upends these stereotypes in entertaining ways, as well as having great fun with them, all in the service of a theme of female empowerment and of being true to yourself.

Interestingly, the show is rooted firmly in its 2001 time frame, from references to Sex and the Cityto an extended riff on Celtic music and Riverdancing. Even the laptops in Callahan’s classroom are authentic to the time frame! But the message is timeless, and the Riverdance / Irish culture sub-theme reemerges later in the show to wonderful effect with an exuberant Irish dance number.

Other standouts include Jenn Suratos as the quirky hairdresser Paulette, who gives Elle valuable advice at the outset, and support when she’s on the ropes. Suratos’ expert comic timing and amazing pipes were again well-utilized in two big numbers that had the crowd exploding with applause.

And Colton Fyfe makes a big, big impression in the small role of Kyle, the “I’m sexy and I know it” UPS guy. Each time he strutted onstage, accompanied by his funky, wah-wah theme music, he had the crowd roaring (and wolf-whistling!).

And no summary of the show would be complete without mentioning the screamingly funny courtroom number that asks (and joyously answers) the musical question, “Is He Gay… or European?” Nicholas Bradbury and Justin Lapena were perfect in the two key roles here, helping make this a real highlight of the show.

Julia Ullrich as Elle brings real warmth and humanity to her role, making us really care about and root for her as she gains confidence and takes charge. And everyone in the show is well-cast and turns in a wonderful performance.

To paraphrase the opening number… if there ever was a perfect couple (of hours in the theatre), this show qualifies. Omigod you guys, do NOT miss this delightfully satisfying show!

Theatre review: Legally Blonde is sweetly optimistic and bursting with energy

Production does not seek to break any molds or push boundaries, but is content to simply entertain

Members of the cast of the Align Entertainment production of Legally Blonde
Members of the cast of the Align Entertainment production of Legally Blonde

Based on the film of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon, Align Entertainment breaks out the big guns for another massive production with Legally Blonde: The Musical.

Staged in the beautiful Michael J. Fox theatre, the show is like a sweet sixteen high on Redbull – sweetly optimistic and bursting with energy.

Elle Woods (Julia Ullrich) is a Malibu barbie come sorority queen looking to marry her Ken Doll boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Stuart Barkley). But when Warner leaves her for more “serious” options at Harvard, Elle follows. Through literal trials and errors, Elle succeeds in discovering her potential without the smarmy man-child Warner, as a fashion-forward lawyer.

Ullrich’s Elle is bubbly and athletic, with a gorgeous buttery voice that effortlessly belts out number after number. Barkley’s Warner is suitably slimy, but hides a quiet comedic flair that prevents him from being wholly unlikable.

Best friend, turned beau, Emmett, played with sweet shtick by Victor Hunter, is a treat but the show is stolen by Jennifer Suratos’ Ireland obsessed Paulette. Quick comedic takes, killer choreography, and a tear-inducing solo bring this supporting player to the forefront.

The lighting and sound by Robert Sondergaard and Tim Lang respectively, highlight the necessary changes without ever feeling pushy. Brian Ball’s set design has an intentional “do-it-yourself” aesthetic, with roughly drawn lines on otherwise straight walls, that feels a bit at odds with Julie White’s spot-on costume design, but this is a small quibble in an otherwise solid show.

Align Entertainment’s Legally Blonde: the Musical does not seek to break any molds or push any boundaries. It is a story we have seen before and will see again. It is a candy-coated smile factory that simply seeks to entertain. On all counts, it succeeds.

Legally Blonde: The Musical. Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin and book by Heather Hach. Directed by Chad Matchette. An Align Entertainment Inc. production on stage at the Michael J. Fox Theatre (7373 Macpherson Ave, Burnaby) until February 17. Visit http://alignentertainment.cafor tickets and information.

Legally Blonde star gets set for a transformation

nullJulia Ullrich (second from left, with Hannah Williams, Ali Watson, and Emily Matchette) is finding out that blonds really do have more fun.


Musical-theatre fans know Julia Ullrich for iconic brunette roles—parts like the dark, tormented teen Veronica in Fighting Chance Productions’ Heathers: The Musical or the cockney flower-girl-cum-gentlewoman Eliza Doolittle in Royal City Musical Theatre’s My Fair Lady last year.

It’s true: Ullrich is blessed with long, chestnut tresses. Which makes it a little bit of a stretch for her to take on Elle Woods—the ridiculously chipper, and famously platinum-maned, L.A. sorority gal/shopaholic in Legally Blonde: The Musical. In the over-the-top show based on the hit 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie, Elle follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School when he decides she’s not serious or intellectual enough for him.

“It’s a bit tough to do,” admits Ullrich, explaining she’ll be wearing a long blond wig for the production. She’s speaking to the Straight over the phone on a lunch break at a local high school, where she’s just taught a junior drama class—her day job. She says putting on the platinum mane changes the way she talks and moves. Like, omigod: “I just exude more confidence and you feel like people are watching you. It feels less like me and more like her.”

So who does Ullrich herself feel closer to? She admits it’s Veronica, the lead in Heathers: The Musical, by Broadway-hit writer Laurence O’Keefe, who also adapted Legally Blondefor the stage. “Veronica is very much earthy and awkward—a lot more like me,” explains Ullrich, who trained in Capilano University’s musical-theatre program before heading to UBC to study acting and then education. “I’m not that kind of a girly-girl. I don’t really feel like this Valley Girl. But all the other girls are great—the ones who play my three friends are super peppy and that helps a lot.”

Still, the experience of Heathers has helped Ullrich adapt to O’Keefe’s powerhouse, pop-rock-amped songs—ones that are more difficult than it might at first appear.

“They’re composed by the same people, so the musical styles are similar: both [Heathersand Legally Blonde] have huge, belty songs,” Ullrich says. “And both my characters are very much in every scene. It’s very vocally challenging. And Elle is super outgoing—larger than life.”

Legally Blonde‘s ensemble takes on powerhouse, pop-rock-amped songs.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that Ullrich is joined on-stage by Elle’s ever-present Chihuahua, Bruiser—played here by a Port Moody canine named Molly. The actor is just getting to know the pint-sized pooch her character famously carries around everywhere and dresses in its own designer outfits: “We’re not sure how excited she’s going to be on-stage yet,” she says with a laugh.

The show’s over-the-top antics extend to the sets for this Align Entertainment production, Ullrich says, adding it’s a full staging with a live band. “You can’t get away from the fact that there’s a sorority house and Harvard—and it’s going to be incredibly pink.”

Yet, amid all the levity, pastel hues, and designer purses, Ullrich is learning not only to love her songs and her character, but to respect the messages the musical ultimately puts forth.

“I really just appreciate Elle’s journey,” she says. “She starts off as a super privileged person. Near the beginning she says, ‘See, dreams really do come true. You never have to compromise.’ ”

But then her character gradually sees that life isn’t all rosy and that she should embrace her brainier self: “She learns that if you are really determined you can succeed,” Ullrich says.

Align Entertainment presents Legally Blonde: The Musical at Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox Theatre from Friday (February 2) to February 17.


Nilum Duniya Sidhho reviewed Align Entertainment5 star April 8


Align’s production of Joseph was enthusiastic, humorous, well executed and a generous helping of delightful family fun. Really well done.

The reviews are starting to come in! “I have watched the Nathan Lane Broadway show on youtube. I saw your show in Burnaby, and thought it was better in most respects, singing, staging, costumes, even set. Thank your so much!!! Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, Fester, Pugsley – magnifique!!”  Better get your tickets!
Brian Koven reviewed Align Entertainment5 star February 22, 2015
Bob Gormley reviewed Align Entertainment4 star February 8, 2014