By Mike Giuliano
7:53 PM EDT, July 17, 2012
You will think pink while watching "Legally Blonde" at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia. Like its pink wardrobe-clad, perky blonde heroine, the show is filled with amusing blonde moments. This celebration of sorority sister spirit certainly qualifies as light summer entertainment.
Although the Hollywood movie and Broadway musical versions of "Legally Blonde" are both silly almost the entire time, there's also a satisfying balance struck between that relentless silliness and a more serious underlying message about a young female law student, Elle Woods, learning how to be true to herself. Yes, girls, you can wear a pink party dress and win a case in court.
As Elle, Jessica Lauren Ball sure has the right look and the right attitude for this part; and, crucially, she has the bright and peppy singing voice to put across Elle's cheerful philosophy. It should be added that Elle also carries around a cute little dog that proves to be just as endearing.
Ball's winning personality counts for a great deal here, because "Legally Blonde" only succeeds if you find yourself ardently rooting for Elle. Otherwise, you might notice that the musical's book by Heather Hach is cartoonishly thin in places. You'd also notice that the music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Neil Benjamin, while enjoyable, have some lethally bland stretches.
Most importantly, this sort of strong lead performer can help you put aside a potentially compelling reason for not sympathizing with Elle. She's a superficial sorority queen whose status-conscious boyfriend, Warner, cruelly dumps her upon their graduation from UCLA. He's headed off to law school at Harvard and sees Elle as a liability to his future career.
What does Elle do? Why, she follows him to Harvard and through, yep, silly scheming gets herself into law school, too. This arrogant guy deserves a swift kick, but she hopes to win him back anyway. She'll come to her senses eventually, but her self-humiliation in the early scenes is potentially hard to take. Again, though, Ball's sweet performance as Elle almost makes such logical reservations seem moot.
The Toby's production directed and choreographed by Mark Minnick also benefits from some incisive supporting performances. As the cold-blooded Warner, for instance, Austin VanDyke Colby brings so much handsome charm and equally sleek singing to the role that you can see why Elle is taken in by Warner's smooth manner. It also helps that Ball and Colby have voices that blend so beautifully that you once again find reasons for their two characters to be together.
By way of replacement boyfriend material, Elle takes a long time to realize that one of her new law school classmates, the plain-looking Emmett Forrest, has romantic potential; and Jeffrey Shankle gives a suitably understated performance as the casually dressed Emmett, who doesn't realize how a suit would improve his appearance.
Another fine supporting performance comes from Priscilla Cuellar as Paulette, a hair salon owner who dispenses romantic advice to regular customers such as Elle. Cuellar has so much vocal power singing Paulette's big number, "Ireland," that you wish this character had more stage time and also had fewer stereotypical working-class mannerisms.
The hectic story and large cast provide for some additional nice performance opportunities, but it's odd that the sorority sisters who are such an integral support network for Elle initially don't register very effectively in this production. In fact, the early scenes in the reviewed performance suffered from a vexing combination of actors not articulating the lyrics clearly in such songs as "Omigod You Guys" and the theater sound system needing to be louder and with a better distribution of that sound.
Like Elle, the production itself seems to gain in confidence and volume as it accompanies her through law school. It's also gratifying that the already-lively orchestra really lets loose as Elle triumphantly makes a pink fashion statement in the trial sequence. No judge in the land could say no to that assertive color.
"Legally Blonde" runs through Sept. 2 at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia. Call 410-730-8311 or go to http://www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.