Out & About: Musicals that morphed from movies

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

The majority of new Broadway musicals in recent years have been stage adaptations of successful movies. That’s the case with the two most recent musicals to open in southern Maine.

Omigod, America’s archetypal Valley Girl, Elle Woods, is like totally morphing from fashion butterfly to legal eagle. That’s the story of “Legally Blonde,” currently running at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.

It’s Christmas and it’s snowing. At least that’s what’s happening in Arundel Barn Playhouse, which is running “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”

There’s hardly a day when something isn’t happening at the Bowdoin International Music Festival. This year’s over-arching theme is Johann Sebastian Bach, and his music is featured on the next two major concerts.

‘Legally Blonde’

An air-headed blonde morphs into a brilliant lawyer. Plus she’s in love with the wrong guy. Add a laughable love story. Plus two laughable dogs.

Those are the key elements of “Legally Blonde,” a wonderfully funny and entertaining show that is running at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.

This 2007 Broadway hit has a score by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin with a book by Heather Hach. It is based on the novel by Amanda Brown and also on the 2001 MGM film that starred Reese Witherspoon.

The principal character is Elle Woods, a divinely blonde, sensationally curvaceous girl with a flair for making loud style statements in screaming baby pink. She is introduced as a college senior majoring in fashion marketing at the University of Southern California, where she’s also the president of the Delta Nu sorority.

Elle’s in love with a stuck-up beau who is headed to Harvard Law School to begin a career in politics.

On a date, Elle expects a marriage proposal. Instead she gets dumped, as her guy tells her that he needs someone who is more “serious.”

Resolving to prove her worthiness to be his wife, Elle follows him to Harvard Law, where she quickly gets put down by the snobbish students and egotistical professors at that august institution of legal learning. The only friend she makes is a lovelorn hairdresser.

But tables turn when Elle assists her criminal law professor in a sensational murder trial, helping to defend a TV exercise maven who has been falsely accused of shooting her husband.

The prosecution has an airtight case until Elle unravels it through insightful research and brilliant cross-examination – and the real murderess is revealed in court.

All the while, Elle discovers the true nature of her beloved: He’s a money-grubbing lawyer who sells out his principles. Plus she discovers her own reservoirs of inner strength, while the audience discovers that Elle’s naive, girlish moral code is far superior to what’s practiced at Harvard Law. She even discovers the right guy for her new self.

MSMT director Marc Robin has assembled a wonderful, fully professional cast. Tops is Alex Ellis as the perfect Elle, the show’s dominating figure from opening curtain to denouement. Along her journey of self-discovery, this fashionista learns that being true to one’s own values never goes out of style.

Charis Leos, a longtime MSMT favorite, draws plenty of laughs in the top character role, a hairdresser who seeks to recover her beloved dog from her ex-boyfriend.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Legally Blonde: The Musical” through July 14 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit www.msmt.org.

‘White Christmas’

Never mind the calendar and ignore the thermometer: It’s Christmas and it’s snowing at the Arundel Barn Playhouse.

Christmas in summertime? That’s the theme for the next couple of weeks at the historic 1880 Smith Farm barn that was converted into a summer theater 15 years ago.

The current offering is “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” a happy and tuneful musical that is mostly set in a barn in rural Vermont.

The 2008 musical is a reasonably faithful stage adaptation of the celebrated 1954 Paramount Pictures film of the same name that starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.

The stage script is very faithful to the original screenplay. Only a few details have been changed, mostly to simplify technical requirements.

The story opens during World War II as two Army buddies perform a 1944 Christmas Eve show for their fellow troops. The script quickly segues to New York in 1954, where the two wartime pals have become a highly successful nightclub act.

In New York the two men meet two sisters who are just breaking into show business. The sisters are booked to perform for the Christmas holidays at an old inn in Vermont. Romance and many complications follow, compounded by the fact that the inn is owned by the aging Army general who once commanded the men.

Per usual operating procedure, Grant has hired a young professional cast, mostly students or recent graduates of collegiate musical theater programs. The four principals offer pleasant interpretations of their roles, beginning with Anthony Alfaro and Fjaere Harder as the primary romantic pairing. Their romance is slow and strewn with obstacles – mostly of their own making.

Nate Richardson and Emily Watson comprise the secondary couple. Their effervescent romance provides the needed comic leavening to the story line.

Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Rt. 1) presents “White Christmas” through July 14. Call 985-5552 or visit www.arundelbarnplayhouse.com.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

Who was history’s greatest classical composer? Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach are among the names often promoted as the best of the best.

For the over-arching theme of the 2012 Bowdoin International Music Festival, founding artistic director Lewis Kaplan has chosen to highlight the music of Bach, who practiced his craft in Germany between 1700 and 1750.

The festival’s next two major concerts include works by Bach. On the July 6 Festival Friday concert, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 will be played with oboist Liang Wang as the featured performer. Also on the program will be another celebrated work, Franz Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden,” performed by the Ying Quartet.

On the July 9 Monday Sonatas series, Bach’s Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Harpsichord will be played, with keyboard artist Laura Lutzke as the featured musician. Sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert are also slated.

Bowdoin International Music Festival concerts are held at Crooker Auditorium at Brunswick High School (Fridays) and Studzinski Recital Hall on the Bowdoin College campus (most other concerts). Visit www.bowdoinfestival.org for the myriad details.

Sidebar Elements

Elle Woods, her dog Bruiser and lawyer Emmet Forrest are three of the central characters in “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” which runs through July 14 at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. The actors are Alex Ellis, left, Chico and Chuck Ragsdale.