HARLINGEN — “We do belong together.”
“Nooo!” exclaimed Irene Castillo, 12, and her friend Madalynn, Pastrana, 11, as Warner made a sappy — and all too late — proposal to Legally Blonde Elle Woods.
“Thought I dreamed of this day long ago,” sings Elle, played by Aaron Blount. “Now my answer is thank you, but no.”
It was the first performance of this year’s first production at the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory. Friday morning students from the Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences filled the auditorium to see the first showing of “Legally Blonde the Musical,” which will open for general audiences tonight at 7 p.m.
The show immediately rockets into high octane hilarity with an explosion of dance numbers about poor Elle needing an engagement dress. It’s over-the-top girly girl madness at its finest. Anyone can tell these turbo-charged high schoolers with their wit, timing and energy are having a blast with their roles. And so does the audience.
“Oh, Warner, tonight’s just perfect,” says a gushy Elle Woods.
“No, you’re perfect,” answers a nauseatingly charming Warner, brilliantly portrayed by Tristan Flores.
He and Aaron aka Elle Woods aka Legally Blonde then sit at a fancy dinner table and get into a volley of deliciously sickening love notes of only two words: “You are.” “You are.” “You are.”
To the old-timers it’s alluringly reminiscent of two hysterically mindless star-crossed lovers of the 1950s saying, “John. Marsha. John. Marsha. I’m so glad that you came. Well, I’m so glad that you’re glad that I came.”
To the Gutierrez middle schoolers, it was simply a blast, watching these satirically parodied characters exchange oaths of admiration.
So Elle and Warner are sitting at the dining table lost in each others eyes (and their hysterical delusions) topped off with a line so comically overused that it fit right into the musical.
“Elle,” begins Warner. “I want you to know how happy you’ve made me. Every guy dreams about finding a girl who looks like you.”
Even the middle schoolers in the audience could tell something was up, and reacted in angry oohs and aahs as Warner breaks into a little song and dance ending with, “Baby…I think we should break up.”
“You’re breaking up with me? I thought you were proposing?” cries Elle in wailing and distress.
And on the second row from the stage, Irene and Madalynn have plenty to say about it.
“Awwww! Leave him!”
And from there the musical with all its antics and hilarity takes off with two and a half hours of fun delightfully woven into the deeper themes of self-worth. Elle struggles with her chorus girls through her numerous levels of trauma as she moves toward a place of greater self-awareness. The constantly changing scenes and sets and props symbolically accent her transformation into something grand and new.
She befriends Paulette, aka Lauren Bender, and the two develop a strong sisterhood bond which the audience appreciates. When Paulette tells Elle, “I’m not like you,” Irene is quick to say, “You are beautiful.”
And there are several fabulously convincing jerks in the cast. There is pompous and condescending Warner, creepy Professor Callahan (played by Benjamin Trevino) and Paulette’s ex-boyfriend who wouldn’t let her have her beloved dog.
“I don’t like him,” Irene mutters. “He’s a rat.”
Callahan is especially revolting when he makes advances on Elle, who has by this time become a serious law student. The invalidation after all the honest work she’s put into her studies is something many women and young girls can relate to. Irene and Madalynn are audibly disgusted.
“I don’t like him, I don’t like him …”
As for Benjamin Trevino, who plays Callahan, he couldn’t be more happy that his character is so convincingly horrible.
“I feel like that’s my job well done,” said Benjamin, 17, a senior.
“Somebody has to be the protagonist of the show, and somebody has to give Elle a reason to do better,” he said. “It’s my job as an actor to make sure that the audience truly believes me and hearing that they did believe me makes me feel really glad.”
The musical addressed continuously the concept of acceptance with scenes regarding body image, homosexuality and individual personality traits which both Irene and Madalynn appreciated.
“I like how the show expresses more validation of LGBT plus, and it’s not just all male-female, they also express male-male and female-female,” Irene said. “I also love how they do the show, they’re really passionate about it, and the cast is pretty cool. I really like it.”
Madalynn said she appreciated the theme about “no-shaming.”
“It’s important because there are people who feel shamed and try to keep themselves inside,” she said. “It’s important to be you, because pretending to be something you’re not is going to lead to trouble and it’s not going to get you anywhere.”