From the opening number of Academy of Art University School of Acting’s musical “Legally Blonde,” it was clear that the actors were having a blast. And so was the audience that packed 620 Sutter Street Theatre on a recent Friday night.
In the first scene, a bevvy of Delta Nu sorority sisters sashayed around the stage singing the infectious “Omigod You Guys,” excited for their beloved president—and the play’s main character—Elle Woods’ pending engagement to her boyfriend, Warner Huntington III. By the time Elle joined them on stage mid-way through the song, the audience was swept up in the moment and burst into applause.
India Jarvis wowed the crowd as the perky blonde fashionista who dresses in head-to-toe pink. After Warner (Greg Snyder) dumps Elle instead of putting a ring on her finger, she follows him to Harvard Law School, intent on proving she can be the smart, serious partner he wants.
Like her character, Jarvis proved that there’s substance beneath her dazzling charisma. Her nuanced performance not only had the audience laughing and rooting for the bubbly Elle, it also convinced them that Elle was much more than a funny airhead. Jarvis’s flawless timing and delivery, paired with her beautiful singing and dancing, earned the acting major a much-deserved standing ovation.
“The reaction from audiences has been incredible,” said Jarvis. “I’m so thrilled our performances touched people and brought them to tears, laughter and joy. My goal was to tell Elle’s story and take our audience on this adventure with her. This show is about love, and I think everyone can relate to that.”
A talented cast with impressive singing and acting skills backed Jarvis and helped her shine. They kept the audience pumped up, and the story moving, with catchy musical numbers that included showstoppers such as “Bend and Snap” and “Whipped into Shape.”
Francis Karajio delivered one of the evening’s many standout female performances in the role of Paulette, the beauty salon owner with a knack for picking the wrong men, whom Elle befriends.
Karajio’s powerful acting and singing resonated with the audience in her first number, the funny yet poignant “Ireland,” and throughout the show. Jessie Rankin radiated spunk and sassiness as Serena, one of Elle’s sorority sisters, and a member of the Greek chorus that appeared in many scenes.
Fellow Greek chorus members Pilar (Zephani Idoko) and Margot (Esther Brown) were also compelling to watch. Other strong female performances came from Allison Frank who played Vivienne Kensington, Warner’s preppy Harvard girlfriend, and Carmen Mitchell as Brooke Wyndham, the fitness queen Elle successfully defends in a murder trial.
Along with Snyder as snooty Warner, Ryan Vasquez was excellent as Emmett Forrest, Elle’s likable new love. Franco Martinez was humorously pompous and intimidating as Professor Callahan. And though his role as Paulette’s love interest—Kyle, the U.P.S. guy—wasn’t huge, Patrick Scott drew big laughs whenever he swaggered on stage.
Under the guidance of Music Director Ben Prince, the seven-piece band gave a tight performance that helped bring the show to life. Alexandra Cummins’ choreography was impeccable, while colorful costumes and set designs perfectly captured the upbeat vibe of the musical.
“I have been overjoyed to work with so many extraordinary people on this show,” said Clark Houston Lewis, the show’s director. “From our wildly talented cast to our hard-working costumers to our inexhaustible stage management crew, these students came together with a fervent, focused energy that lit up the stage and left all of us wonderfully giddy at the end of every performance.”
Lewis added that he’s especially grateful for the help he received from School of Acting Executive Director Diane Baker and Associate Director Damon Sperber. “Putting on a musical of this size takes a lot of coordination and support from different departments,” he remarked. “We’re lucky to get such extraordinary support from Diane and Damon, day in and day out.”