By Barry Reszel
On Wednesday, September 12, 2018, Apple is expected to unveil a number of new iPhone models. In a highly-anticipated event scheduled at the slick Apple Park headquarters, the company is likely to announce expanding the iPhone X design and glitzy changes across its entire phone lineup, with more sizes, colors and price points.
No word on whether Paramount Theatre Artistic Director Jim Corti was asked to produce Wednesday’s extravaganza. Surely that decision would have served Apple well.
Because Corti’s dynamic set design/projection duo of Jeffery D. Kmiec and Mike Tutaj preemptively outshone the giant cellphone manufacturer on Saturday, Sept. 8. They did so by unveiling a massive texting, emoji posting, selfie snapping, Lyft-driver evaluating iPhone as the jaw-dropping visual centerpiece to Paramount’s thrilling production of Legally Blonde.
Descending from the rafters during the show’s opening number, “Omigod You Guys,” this technologically memorable set piece elicited precisely the same response from a raucous opening night crowd and promises to do likewise, eight shows a week, through Oct. 21.
Working on his 16th Paramount production, but first as director, Trent Stork treats audiences to a fast-moving, thrilling joy ride of a musical with a lot more depth than might be expected from a show inspired by the 2001 Reese Witherspoon film. It’s intriguing that Stork’s path mirrors that of Legally Blonde‘s Broadway Director Jerry Mitchell. The Tony-winning choreographer made his Broadway directorial debut with this show in 2007, a production garnering seven Tony nominations that year.
Mitchell and Stork each combine Heather Hach‘s comedic script; Laurence O’Keefe‘s (Heathers: the Musical) joyful score; and Neil Benjamin‘s tight, witty lyrics into an exuberant, dance-exhausting, massively fun musical. If Mitchell’s production was 2007’s #metoo precursor, Stork’s 2018 version is a Serena racquet-slam of a reminder.
That said, Legally Blonde is no feminist manifesto; consider it better labeled, “RomCom turned upside-down.” The plot revolves around a stereotypical UCLA sorority girl, Elle Woods, who follows her college love to Harvard Law School to prove she can be “serious,” or as the song puts it, “less of a Marilyn; more of a Jackie.” At its heart, this tender tale is about giving one’s life over to love, only to find that growth, maturity and confidence change the very definition of love, all together. The detailed plot summary and production history may be read here.
This show’s brilliant choreography by Stork and Megan E. Farley is supported by Kory Danielson‘s expert music direction and the prowess of 13 excellent musicians. Consummate professional backstage leaders Theresa Ham (costumes), Nick Belley (lighting) and Katie Cordts (hair, wigs and makeup), among others, help keep the ‘Blonde’ coming with seamless set, costume and wig changes.
Then there’s the fabulous songbook. From the infections “Omigod You Guys” through such numbers as the funny ballad “Serious,” lawyerly “Blood in the Water,” instructional “Chip on My Shoulder,” exhausting jump rope accompaniment “Whipped Into Shape,” hilarious “There! Right There!” and tender title song, this is a musical collection that truly has something for everyone.
And it’s performed to perfection.
In her Paramount debut, Louisville native Casey Shuler puts the University of Kentucky’s musical theatre program onto consideration lists for young Chicagoland stage hopefuls. Her crystalline voice and strong acting make her not merely a lovely, blonde sorority girl, but a woman who’s believable in her transition to becoming the very best Elle Woods.
Her strong-voiced male counterparts are also newcomers to the Paramount stage. Gerald Caesar brings his impressive Broadway, touring and regional musical theatre resume to the character of Emmett, Elle’s Harvard mentor and eventual suitor. Tyler Lain, a USC graduate, brings takes his surfer-dude look coast-to-coast as Elle’s dreamboat, Warner Huntington, III.
These three lead an exceptionally talented cast. Particularly notable performances come from Jacquelyne Jones, who plays Warner’s uppity new girlfriend Vivienne; Sophie Grimm as the hilarious beautician/therapist Paulette, a “Bend and Snap” natural; James Rank as Harvard’s lecherous Professor “C-Minus” Callahan; Jenna Coker-Jones, another Paramount newcomer, as exercise maven Brooke Wyndham; Teressa LaGamba as stereotypical lesbian bookworm Enid; James Doherty, as the Irish UPS deliveryman with a package, Kyle B. O’Boyle; and the ensemble par excellance led by Greek chorus members Lucy Godinez, Kyrie Courter and Sara Reinecke along with Anthony Sullivan Jr. and Yando Lopez, as Nikos and Carlos (Gay and/or European?).
A shout-out as well to William Berloni whose exceptionally well-trained dogs, Frankie and Romeo, manage to steal audience members’ hearts as Elle’s Chihuahua, Bruiser, and Paulette’s Bulldog, Rufus.
So the California tech giant that’s transformed lives for better or worse unveils its new line on Sept. 12. But rather than waiting in line at the Apple store, go instead to the box office and grab tickets for Legally Blonde at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre.
Because that’s where the coolest iPhone on the planet is on display.
“Legally Blonde” is presented by The Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Boulevard, Aurora, through Oct. 21. More information and tickets are available here.