Entertainer, Songtress, Actress
A dancing, singing lawyer in pink (carrying a purse dog) is the star of the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's season-ending, pull-out-the-stops musical.
"Legally Blonde, The Musical," the singing, dancing version of the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon, opens on the theater's MainStage on Friday, July 12, and continues through July 28.
"She doesn't leave the stage much at all," director and set designer Steve Ray says of Brittni Rhodes, who portrays Elle, the airy sorority girl who enrolls in Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend but finds a new life for herself. "She carries the show, and you have to have somebody who can carry the show."
The plot of the musical, he says, is basically the same plot as in the movie, though a few characters and locations are combined. The play still has 24 locations.
Ray describes the production as a "pop rock musical" and a "hyper musical," with one production number leading straight into the next.
"It's [for] today's audience," he says. "It's all spectacle and music and dance."
Rhodes, a recent Center for Creative Arts graduate who will attend college in the fall, is involved in all but a couple of the numbers.
"She's setting the pace for everyone else," says Ray. "She was the first one off book to know her lines and her dances. She knew all the music [coming in] and was well-trained in how to rehearse the music."
"Legally Blonde, The Musical" has not only music, dancing and spectacular costumes but also two dogs. Bruiser is Elle's Chihuahua, and there's a bulldog belonging to Paulette, the divorced manicurist who befriends Elle (and steals the scene).
Ray says coming into the multi-Tony Award-nominated production, he was familiar with the movie and knew of the musical.
"When I first listened to the music and read through the script," he says, "I was pleasantly surprised at how well it was done. The music is really good. Musicals based on movies can be disappointing, but this has really, really great music. It's very danceable. People will not be disappointed.
"If you liked the movie, you will really like this. There's dancing, singing, animal acts. You can tell the people who put this together really like musicals."
Chattanooga Theatre Centre
July 2012 Role: GODDESS
Hair on the Circle stage on June 15th, 2012. The following is from the press release:
Book and Lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. Music by Galt MacDermot
Meet The Tribe, a group of politically active hippies of the “Age of Aquarius” living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting the draft in the rock-musical, Hair. The show grew out of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the musical’s profanity, its sexuality, and its irreverence caused controversy when it debuted off-Broadway in 1967. After moving to Broadway the following year, it ran for 1,750 performances and its songs became anthems of the peace movement. A Broadway revival opened in 2009, earning strong reviews and winning the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for best revival of a musical. Age has not lessened the powerful impact of this four-decades-old musical, as Time magazine reports: “Today Hair seems, if anything, more daring than ever.”
Hair, the theatrical love-in is one of a kind. The play came out of the Greenwich Village theater scene in the late 60’s and rose quickly to the Broadway stage with its experimental art forms and rock songs that became top 40 hits. Hair was banned from debuting in Chattanooga in the early 1970’s for what Memorial Auditorium board members believed were obscene acts within the play. The musical had been banned by other cities, including Boston. Lawsuits were filed in both cities and both worked their way to the Supreme Court. It was ruled in the Chattanooga case that that the Auditorium Board had shown unlawful prior restraint 45 years later, this tribal rock musical is more popular than ever. CTC’s Artistic Director Scott Dunlap calls ‘Hair’ a, “Perfect little time capsule,” of the late 1960’s with it’s many and varied references from the perspective of the Hippie culture rising out of the ashes of the Vietnam War. This musical revival may be a kind of euphoric lament in 2012, having found no utopic,”Age of Aquarius,” to speak of.
Reporting: Monessa Guilfoil
July 2011 Role: Motormouth Maybelle
The Chattanooga Theatre Centre MainStage closes out the season with an electrifying production. The Tony Award-winning “Hairspray” offers incessant, fun-filled songs energetically performed by a 28-member cast led by CTC’s producing director, George Quick.
Quick masterfully crafts this workmanship with team members Mike Lees (musical director) Lindsay Fussell (choreographer), Rodney Strong (stage manager), Scott Dunlap (scenic design), Thomas Goddard (lighting design), Paul Hughes (sound design) and Warren Brady (technical supervisor).
Set in Baltimore in June 1962, “Hairspray” deals with serious social issues, including various types of discrimination. Narrating the story of people who don’t fit in, the cast delivers the lesson to be learned in a delightful celebration of music of the late ’50s and early ’60s.
With the usual professionalism exhibited in CTC performances, the production is an extraordinary spectacle of abilities in every musical number. This strong cast of talent does contain several who deserve additional mention.
Gracie Bramlett makes her CTC debut as Tracy Turnblad. Bramlett’s interpretation of the heroine is most convincing in her lovable, innocent fashion. With her beautiful voice, Bramlett wins the hearts of her audience.
Brittni Rhodes is hilarious as Tracy’s sidekick, Penny. Also making her CTC debut, Rhodes is unbelievably animated and impelling.
Kyle Dagnan captures the role of Corny Collins with smooth style. A talented singer and dancer, Dagnan seems to be at ease in this pivotal performance.
The character of Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mom, is believably played by Jeff Hill. The role is traditionally done in drag, and Hill is great in this challenging role and quite entertaining in the musical number “You’re Timeless to Me,” performed with Lebron Benton, as Wilbur Turnblad, Tracy’s dad.
Derek Yates makes a great CTC debut with his first musical-theater experience as Link Larkin, Tracy’s heartthrob. As Amber VonTussle, Tracy’s antagonist, Shelby Christine Folks is likewise unscathed in her CTC debut. Kim Ingram nails the loathsome Velma VonTussle, mother of Amber. Wendy Tippens is hilarious in doubling as Prudy Pingleton, the Gym Teacher, and the Matron.
Two cast members excel with performances unparalleled. In his first performance at the CTC, Jermaine Purifory, as Seaweed, is a standout as a dancer and vocalist. A true entertainer, he will go far in his musical endeavors.
Portraying his mother, Motormouth Maybelle, is Azusa Q. Dance, who possesses one of the most powerful voices to ever be on the MainStage at CTC. When Dance sings, you know who controls the stage. She is fabulous.
The cast keeps the audience toe-tapping along with the music.
“You Can’t Stop the Beat” evokes a standing ovation as the curtain closes on a splendid night of musical theater at the CTC. It’s pure fun for all ages.