Legally Blonde Jnr The Musical – Central Coast youth make a splash. (Theatre Review)

Legally Blonde Jnr The Musical

Jopuka Productions

The Launch Pad

Thursday 7 Feb – Sunday 10 Feb.FF

At the tme of publishing this review, this production is sold out. Find out more here.

Images: James Beggs

The central message of Legally Blonde is clear: Do not underestimate girls. We are all familiar with Elle Woods’ (Jess Pennings) minor success in proving the ex-boyfriend, who felt she would not be an ideal companion for a bright young law student, to be a below-average student himself. However, Elle’s greater success is her ability to reduce the law to procedure and integrate ‘feminine’ knowledge in what is still one of the great patriarchal institutions in the western world. Elle’s story, shrouded in the tropes of mythology, gaily suggests that the law is no more than a set of rules, open to everyone who takes the trouble to become familiar with them. Legally Blonde therefore becomes a demystification process, outing the law as a system primarily used to protect property and concerning itself with the analysis of texts produced by courts and lawyers. Elle Woods’ story co-opts static cultural theory (here the unchanging ‘true’ nature of girls) to affect a system of exclusion using the thing it excludes. In this way Elle Woods’ story is more about the infiltration and deflation of establishment and is of equal empowerment to boys, and young people in particular. What better metaphor for the rising strength of theatre youth on the Central Coast of NSW?

Legally Blonde is therefore a wonderful musical choice for Jopuka to use as part of the Summer Fest program. Casting choices of the play (made Junior by time constraints and a careful edit) is exclusive to young people aged high school to eighteen years. The production is rehearsed over a one-week period at the end of the school holidays before the theatre run at the start of the school year. By opening night this production of Legally Blonde Jnr had sold out. Set in Jopuka’s brand new theatre space, the intimate and appropriately named ‘The Launch Pad’ this production of Legally Blonde Jr is a testament to the success and importance of Jopuka Productions and the bevy of talent they have available to work with.

Of particular note in this production is the outstanding talent of seventeen-year-old director Tayah Blackmann and Choreography by Marlee Carter. Tayah Blackmann reveals a talent for adapting to an intimate theatre space and an ability to pull powerhouse musical performances out of her budding youthful cast. Mentored by Madeline Parker, Taya Blackmann transports this production of Legally Blonde Jnr to its U.S. home, includes its enormous themes and scenes, yet still connects deeply with its audience. With a team over fifty people strong, she shows great confidence to pull this performance together atop challenging time frames. Equally, much of the shows pizzazz relies on the cultured stylings of Marlee Carter’s choreography that combine a sophisticated eye with the very practical understanding of what she can glean from her young troupe.

One of the great accomplishments of Tayah Blackmann and vocal coach Rayelle Payne is the relaxed performance pulled from the four female leads. Of particular note is Jess Pennings in the titular role. Jess Penning’s Elle Woods taps into the soul strength of the character, running more dignity than ditz. The performance grounds itself in strong vocal skills and a natural affinity for the stage. Jess Pennings carries the show easily while allowing for powerhouse performances to shine around her. One of those is Tara Soanes as Paulette who displays a comedic flare enhanced by an intuitively confident timing. Her solo effort ‘Ireland’ is one of the standout performances of the show and had the audience in stitches on opening night. Strong also in her role as the aerobicised Brooke is Erin Hobden, sassy in her prison garb. Seemingly made for role, Erin Hobden combines confident dance routine and a rich-girl-privilege vibe  to produce a very likeable mean-girl archetype. The four performances are rounded out by the strong and understated Brigette Johnston as the villain turned friend Vivienne who does a fine job in the difficult role of the girl we love to love-hate-love.

Not to be outdone by the girls, some strong performances from the boys make this production one of the best I’ve seen on the Central Coast. Tom Kelly is comfortable and strong in his role as Emmett, equally as convincing in his frustrated counterpart to Elle as he is with his nice guy persona. Ryan Knowles is underplayed initially then finds his own as the character melded from so many real-life lawyers, Callahan.  Ryan Knowles developing performance becomes one of she shows joyful surprises. Brandon Alexander is a cheerfully vacuous Warner, whose performance kept reminding me of the lost looks George Bush junior used to get when surprised by a situation beyond him. Equally the smarmy looks from Spencer Johnston with his running ‘package’ gag and his sly ‘hot guy’ riffing of Paulette into an Irish Dance number makes for one of the shows funniest moments.

Special mention goes to rising star Abigail Gracia for her marvelous voice and natural stage presence Jacinta Rose Burley for playing the meanest girl of all and Carley for being the worlds best Bruiser Woods. A shout out of encouragement to the rest of the ensemble who come together as a powerhouse behind the leads and really are what makes the show work in the end.

Legally Blonde Jnr The Musical is yet another powerful contribution to the already impressive Jopuka cannon, but equally heralds a strong move in the Central Coast toward a vibrant, nurturing theatre scene capable of caring for the many creatively talented young people in the region. Legally Blonde Jnr The Musical cradles its ambitious young people, and presents them at their best, filling the room with the excited energy of a promising future.