The opening week of the Amarillo Arts Season featured not one, but two musicals: Legally Blonde, which had a three weekend run on ALT’s mainstage, and Songs for a New World which showed for two weeks at WTAMU.
Many cliches are almost apt for Legally Blonde: stereotypes on steroids; girly and garish; simultaneously pink and powerful.
This play is the product of playwright Heather Hach, with music and lyrics by Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe and drawn from the original novel by Amanda Brown as well as the motion picture.
The precis of the performance is sorority girl Elle Woods, dumped by fantasized fiance Warner because she doesn’t align with his projected trajectory of greatness, follows him to Harvard Law School to win him back.
There, she digs deep in a revelatory odyssey that is actualizing and empowering, negotiating social and academic minefields along which a sequence of credible role reversals take place, including rejection of her former heartthrob, now suppliant and quasi-penitent.
The plot is complex, the sequencing intense and demanding, with many of the large number of roles requiring that trifecta of performance: singing, dancing and acting.
And where can Director Jason Crespin, Music Director Jennifer Akins and Choreographer Beth Alexander find that huge amount of extraordinary talent? Right here in Amarillo, Texas!
It’s possible to note only a few of huge cast, chief among whom is Elle, played by Terry Martin, a West Coast theatre and screen veteran whose stage credits attest to the omnicompetence of her talent spectrum.
Leigh Anne Crandall played Paulette the hairdresser, whose Bostonian southside accent sounded systemic, who intuits and embraces the inner Elle.
The most complex character arc is in Vivienne, played by Amber Spaulding, who morphs from snobbish social climber to sincere social activist.
Ryan Sustaita, in contrast to the jerk jock he played in Heathers, is patient, kind, attentive and genuine, everything Elle’s ex wasn’t.
Patrick Swindell, locally recognized arts afficionado and patron, played the puissant and profound Professor Callahan, whose feet of clay become crucial to Elle’s empowerment.
And let’s not forget the pawformances of Bentley and Maverick who totally captured their canine characters, as well as the hearts of the audience.
This show had pace and punch, and a pool of talent consistent with far larger metropolitan areas. But wait: the stage still beckoned the first week of the arts season.
The second play was staged by the WTAMU Theatre Dept. at the Happy State Bank Studio Theatre.
Songs For a New World, originally produced by the WPA Theatre in NYC in 1995, was created by Jason Robert Brown, who also composed the music.
The production staff was larger than the cast of ten, who multi-tasked their many roles with facility, like the director Bradley J. Behrmann who also played piano.
The audience enjoyed a dinner theatre ambience with couches and drink tables facing a stunning stage designed by Brock Burton.
The play/musical’s premise is about leaving the comfort zone and braving the unknown, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually.
The costuming, super casual chic, was incidental to the profound and poignant messages in the music, with only a few of the nineteen numbers noted.
The second ensemble takes place on the deck of a Spanish ship in 1492, literally bound for a new world. Rejene Phillips belts out a powerful message about racial equality in The Steam Train.
Adam Hainsel and Lauren Landtroop, the latter in a part so different from Heathers, sang a moving duet about a divorced couple contemplating reconciliation in I’d Give it All for You.
Finally Cynthia Morin offered a stirring performance in Flying Home, about that new world all face as we leave this mortal coil.
All of the elements of the production, whether it was the actors, directors, stage, crew and musicians, moved flawlessly like the many parts of a Rolex. Small wonder that the Theatre Department has entered this work in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
The Panhandle cultural arts area extends ‘Break a Leg’ wishes.
Because of the prevalence of both provocative as well as major plays throughout the season, Amarillo area theatre goers have access to national-class stage.
That theatre is only one facet of the gem that is the Amarillo arts scene, we say, at the start of this arts season, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”