You know a musical is good when even two adorable little dogs can't steal the show (though they do get lots of "oohs" and "aahs" when they make their wide-eyed, well-behaved appearances).
But that's what happens in Legally Blonde, the 2007 Broadway hit playing through May 28 at Richey Suncoast Theatre in downtown New Port Richey.
Thanks to a stellar, almost 50-member cast of high-energy singer/dancers, led by beautiful RST newcomer Athena Tootie Jolee Romanski (yes, that is her full name) as sorority president/aspiring Harvard Law School student Elle Wood, Melissa Smith's knockout choreography, and Marie Skelton's fine direction, Legally Blonde delivers so much pow and punch that the puppies become just two more elements in an overall adorable show.
Sure, it's politically incorrect — note the hilarious Gay or European? in Act 2, or the cynical Blood in the Water sung by the lecherous law professor Callahan (David Bethards) in Act 1 or even the spoof of the near-sacred Riverdance — but it's all done with such chutzpah that you can't help but burst out laughing.
That's in great part because of Brian Moran, who goes from being the trashy, good-for-nothing Dewey in one scene to the mincing pool boy Nikos in another to a gorgeously hunky, "walking porn" UPS delivery guy Kyle in the still another. (I had to double check it was the same man doing all three, just to be sure.) Talk about talent — this guy has it.
As always, Beth Phillips is a darling (remember her star turn as Billie Bendix in Nice Work If You Can Get It?) as Paulette, Elle's wise and wonderful hairdresser, who has just about given up on men until she meets Kyle. Mitchell Gonzalez creates a convincing cad as Warner, a nastily ambitious Harvard man who dumps Elle for the "more serious" Vivienne (played with appropriate snark by Brooke Stinnett), a fellow law school student he deems more worthy of himself. Jess Glass is a hoot as the spunky lesbian law student Enid, at first skeptical of Elle, then her fiercest champion.
Ryan Bintz gets a chance to show not only his acting skills, but his wonderful singing voice (Take It Like a Man, Chip on My Shoulder, Legally Blonde) as Emmett Forrest, Elle's law school pal, supporter, encourager and, eventually, No. 1 fellow. Molly Cook bursts with energy and life as fitness guru Brooke Wyndham, the murder suspect who poses as Elle's greatest challenge and victory.
Marvelous in supporting roles are Mark Lewis as Winthrop, the sputtering law school dean; Cody Farkas as the tie-dyed dancer Grandmaster Chad; and the trio of Kaela Moran, Megan Gillespie and Suzanne Meck as Elle's ever-faithful sorority sisters Margot, Serena and Pilar and her ever-helpful, imaginary Greek chorus that appears to lift her up whenever things get really tough for the Malibu girl turned courtroom fighter.
The continuing joy in the musical, however, is Romanski, as the upbeat, completely likable Elle, whose metamorphosis from seemingly air-headed boy's toy to a creative, perceptive and whip-smart attorney is a pleasure to watch. She can Bend and Snap with the best of 'em, then direct the Scene of the Crime like a seasoned pro, tossing her ice-blonde hair with zest and zeal. Her Elle is proud but not arrogant, sweet but not syrupy — in short, just right at every moment.
Special kudos to David Daly, who stepped in to play Elle's Dad (in addition to four other roles) when the original actor was taken to the hospital just before opening night.
And here's hoping Paulette's mic problem is cleared up (one near the mouth, not on the forehead, please) so that her "Where are they now" explanation at the end of the show comes through clearly, because it's one of the most hilariously surprising parts of the whole thing.