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September 22, 2014
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arts & leisure

Theatre Beat: Blondes really do have more fun!


Following it’s successful run of “Guys and Dolls,” which was heavily dependent on the guys, the newest production at the Forestburgh Playhouse (FBP) is, as predicted, all about the ladies. The musical version of “Legally Blonde,” based on the novel and runaway hit film starring Reese Witherspoon, enjoyed a modest run on Broadway in 2007. Nominated for seven Tony Awards, the show follows the adventures of fashionista Elle Woods, played by mega-talent Zoe Kassay, who follows what she believes is her dream, only to discover herself along the way.

Kassay embraces her character with undeniable charm, verve and vitality, wrapped in bubble gum pink, while belting out a dozen musical numbers with her powerful, unique and extremely appealing vocal prowess. Kassay is rarely off-stage in “Blonde,” yet I never tired of her fresh and consistently funny performance. Truly a “triple threat,” this young woman entertains throughout the evening with her acting, dancing and singing, singing singing!

Elle’s sorority girl-cum-law student is supported by her posse—a Greek chorus of cheerleaders more than ably led by Lauren Chapman, Alexis Semevolos and Gabriella Perez. Impossibly energetic, the entire female cast is completely in the zone, with frothy, amusing direction and choreography by FBP alumnus Dann Dunn, whose vision was completed by adorable scenic design, nicely executed by Darcy Engel.

Not to be outdone, the men stepped up to the plate last night with Michael Starr as snobbish jerk Warner Huntington III and Kevin Confoy as Elle's tough and creepy Professor Callahan. Both men have wonderful voices, and their acting chops vividly brought the characters to life. As Elle’s journey unfolds, she comes to realize her personal growth as a strong and capable woman and the audience roots for her along the way... as her intellect shines, proving that true beauty is more than skin deep-while losing her dependence on the men in her life. Finding a “good guy” before reaching her destination, Dan Fenaughty’s surrogate love interest, Emmett, is enhanced by the actors’ beautiful voice and charming demeanor.

In a surprisingly popular cameo, Michael Graceffa’s UPS delivery man caused the sold-out crowd to roar each time he strutted his stuff across the stage, eventually winning the adoration of Katie Sarno’s hysterical turn as hairdresser/confidante Paulette Bonafonte.

Sarno joins Jessica Wagner (as Vivienne Kensington) in adding even more talent to this production, as both women bring their tremendous skills to “Blonde.” Sarno’s show-stopping number, “Ireland,” made me instantly fall in love with this actress and my ongoing FBP affair with Wagner continues unabated. Both women have major careers in store and local audiences will be able to say “I knew them when” for many years to come.

The court trial that secures our blonde’s rise to fame centers on exercise guru Brooke Wyndham, played by yet another talented femme, Joyah Spangler, whose “Whipped into Shape” number provided Melissa Niknam an opportunity to secure her popularity with the audience as the rough and tough Enid.

“Blonde” is a shining example of what the Forestburgh Playhouse does best: taking an underwhelming Broadway production from a too-large venue and translating it to a more intimate setting, which really makes it work better than on the Great White Way. Terrific pacing and casting (with solid musical direction by Ryan Touhey) and a strong ensemble, create yet another “miracle in the forest” this time around (and the star turns by canine performers Ricoh Nash and Sasha Duttweiler are nothing to sniff at either). For those who have not seen the film—no worries. The story line is clear and concise, allowing theatre goers to thoroughly enjoy this sparking production on it’s own merits.

“Legally Blonde” continues to entertain through July 8th, with pre-curtain buffets and cabaret shows adding to a fun evening out. For tickets and information, visit www.FBplayhouse.org or call (845) 794-1194