Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Rod Bagheri

“Legally Blonde” at Candlelight: Froth, Fun and a Bit of a Message

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Callandra Olivia as Elle and Jordan Killion as Emmett in Candlelight Pavilion’s “Legally Blonde” [Photo: Demetrios Katsantonis]

The management of Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont has had a remarkable timeliness this past year or so. On the night that white supremacists were marching in Charlottesville, they were opening “South Pacific,” with its messages about the dangers of racial intolerance. As the “Me Too” movement took hold they were running “9 to 5”. As the immigration debate heated up, “Ragtime,” concerning immigration and racial issues at the turn of the last century, was running on their stage. And now, in the most lighthearted of these, the musical based on the film “Legally Blonde” echoes in comic form the push for women’s equality in the workplace commonly called “Time’s Up.”

So, how does this “Legally Blonde” stack up? The show proves polished and teeming with youthful energy. The storyline, silly as it is, comes as a kind of affirmation of hard work, and a rejection of the exclusionary silver-spoon contingent of our society. The music, though comparatively unmemorable, leads to a number of striking dance numbers. In short this is delightfully breezy piece with a quietly serious core.

Essentially, the story follows Elle Woods, a UCLA sorority girl who has skated through college with the understanding that she will end up married to a boy from a prominent family. When that boy rejects her instead and leaves for Harvard Law School, Elle’s sorority sisters help her prep for the LSAT, and she ends up accepted there as well. Once it becomes clear that the boyfriend, Warner, has more upper-crust marriage intents, Elle buckles down as a law student, encouraged by Emmett, another student from a comparatively humble background. Soon she begins to shine on her own, if only as a form of vengeance.

Callandra Olivia has a great time as Elle, creating a character which manages to do what this part always needs: begin as a stereotype and then rise out of it toward a specific ethic and professionalism. As the offensive non-fiance, Warner, Matthew Malecki manages to be as condescending  as needed, and as needy as written. Tara Shoemaker radiates all the nastier traits of the privileged class as Warner’s new love interest.

As Emmett, Jordan Killion balances a mild geekiness with whatever is the mature version of a gee-whiz view of the world. As the hairdresser who keeps Elle grounded – and whose personal concerns provide Elle with proof of the power of knowing the law, Molly Stilliens has an absolute ball, particularly when drooling over Nic Olsen’s UPS guy. As the professor who both gives Elle her big shot and proves her biggest wake-up call, Ron Hastings has a command and a harshness which make that part the catalyst it should be.

Director Chuck Better keeps this very episodic tale moving, in part thanks to his own design for an equally impressive moving collection of set pieces. Alison Keslake’s choreography creates atmosphere and keeps the focus on the lighter, sillier parts of the piece. Rod Bagheri’s musical direction leads to fine ensemble work. if only the mics were set quite so “boomy”, as some essential lyrics get lost in the electronic tonalities.

Still, if you are looking for a bright, airy evening of theater – there are even two dogs on stage – and an light-hearted, mildly feminist message, then “Legally Blonde” is for you. Put on your pink, and come watch justice prevail for a night.

What: “Legally Blonde”  When: through July 14, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and for lunch 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont. How Much: $63-$78 adult, $30-$35 children 12 and under, meal inclusive. Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or www.candlelightpavilion.com

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Nostalgic “Footloose” at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater

The cast of Candlelight Pavilion's "Footloose" celebrates victory

The cast of Candlelight Pavilion’s “Footloose” celebrates victory

In 1984, the film “Footloose” bounced into movie theaters, bringing with it a fistful of major pop hit songs and the ultimate bit of righteous teenage fluff as a big-city boy leads a youth rebellion against a small town law forbidding dancing. Corny and almost universally panned by critics, it ended up with a staying power nobody could have imagined. Then in 1998, the whole thing was turned into a Broadway musical, written by the same folk who wrote the film, with most of the classic songs intact and a few added tunes.

Now that stage “Footloose” has burst upon Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont. Thanks to intelligent direction by John LaLonde, Andrew Russell’s attractive spin on the displaced dancing teen Ren, evocative choreography by Alison Hooper and comedic clarity by Spenser Micetich, it is a lighthearted hit.

Of course, the first selling point to any version of “Footloose” has to be all those memorable songs. From “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” through “Almost Paradise,” “Holding Out for a Hero” and, of course, “Footloose,” the works by such celebrated as Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar and more will take any listener of a certain age back in time. Seeing them in context again proves an added plus.

Russell’s Ren centers the production from start to finish, as he has just enough of Kevin Bacon about him to keep that rebel vibe heartwarming rather than obnoxious. As his love interest, the preacher’s daughter Ariel, Emily Martin manages both vulnerability and an essential toughness which keep the character interesting. Jason Webb, in the rather two-dimensional role of Ariel’s absolutist father, gives the part as much humanity as the script will allow, while Jennifer Webb’s turn as Ariel’s mother creates an underscore of deep sadness which helps with humanizing the entire family.

Spenser Micetich's Willard explains what "Mama Says" in a break-out moment

Spenser Micetich’s Willard explains what “Mama Says” in a break-out moment

Keely Milliken makes solid work of Ren’s fatalistic but supportive mother. Chassey Bennett, Taylor Barbara and Emily Chelsea have a ball as Ariel’s understanding if concerned friends. Indeed, the entire rest of the ensemble who play smaller adult parts, the teens Ren leads in rebellion, or both, dance and sing with enthusiasm and skill, and create a wealth of individuals to surround the central story. Still, perhaps the most eminently likable performance has to be Micetich’s rube-like Willard, whose earnest interest in Ren’s project, and especially his silly homage to his admittedly crazy mother, “Mama Says” prove consistently endearing.

Hooper’s choreography proves reminiscent of the film, but finds its own space on the comparatively small Candlelight stage. One does admit missing Bacon’s gleeful “Let’s dance!”, but all the other essential elements are there. LaLonde has a real feel for musical pacing, keeping the movement and energy flowing so well in what is admittedly a very episodic tale that the chunkiness of the script isn’t an issue. The costuming – including the iconic red tux jacket – evoke the film, the hair is right, and the musical director Rod Bagheri is to be congratulated particularly for the evenness of the larger numbers.

In short, “Footloose” was never very deep, but it was always fun. This stage version captures that – the teenage fight against inexplicable rigidity, the gentle romance of small town life, and the yearning for freedom every adolescent must wrestle with. And it has all those 80s hits. It is certainly worth a look. All that, and you get a pretty classy meal to go along with it.

Next on the Candlelight docket is a musical which, though wildly different from the innocent “Footloose,” also deserves notice. “La Cage Aux Folles” – a musical based on the French film of the same name, which was remade as the American film “The Bird Cage,” will offer great humor, skilled chorus numbers, and a few delightful (or perhaps infamous) surprises. Check for that one too.

What: “Footloose” When: Through August 27, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and for lunch matinees at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd in Claremont How Much: adults $58-73, children 12 and under $30-$35, meal inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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