Pink and perky production lights up Highland Park High School
Highland Park High School students Ari Dayan (left to right) as Margot, Marlee Learner as Serena, Becky Keeshin as Elle, and Sami Fishbein as Pilar perform "Legally Blonde: The Musical" during a dress rehearsal last week. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Me
Updated: March 15, 2013 11:37AM
HIGHLAND PARK — Director Scott Shallenbarger tries to vary his blowout musical productions at Highland Park High School both for the student performers and loyal community members who attend the shows.
So after producing the dark-themed “Jekyll and Hyde” last year, Shallenbarger and other members of the school’s fine arts faculty intentionally looked for lighter fare.
They lit upon the decidedly perky production “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” The show is based on the first Legally Blonde movie starring Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, a fashion-conscious sorority girl who follows her love interest to Harvard Law School and ends up making her own mark.
“Our first question when we choose a show is, ‘What is the best educational experience we can provide our students?’” said Shallenbarger, noting the darker Jekyll and Hyde also challenged the performers and orchestra musicians in a valuable way.
“This year we consciously selected something more fun, more family-oriented and joyous,” said the director, who has produced 23 school musicals in as many years.
The five-performance run opened Feb. 8 and closes this weekend with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Feb. 15 and 16) in the auditorium. All tickets cost $10.
This year’s show is the collective effort of 91 cast members, a crew of 43 students and 20 student-musicians who make up the orchestra. Teacher Terry Shulman choreographed all the major numbers and colleagues Sheri Owens and James Hile served, respectively, as the vocal and orchestra directors.
Not only is “Legally Blonde” a natural fit for a high-energy teen cast, but Shallenbarger also said he was drawn to the show’s feminist message.
“Within all the light and joy, there is something there for our girls,” he explained. “The audience gets a thematic push at the end about empowering women, which for high school girls is especially important.”
Senior Becky Keeshin, who plays Elle Woods in the show, dyed her auburnish-brown hair blonde for the lead role.
Keeshin said her character’s personality quickly wins over the audience.
“She’s passionate and grows from each experience,” said Keeshin, 17, who plans to pursue musical theater in college. “She never gives up. She’s likable from the second she is introduced, which makes it easy to root for her when things start to go her way.”
HPHS parent Rebecca Baim said she is consistently blown away by the level of professionalism in the school’s productions.
“From the acting, dancing and singing to the lighting, costumes, sets and orchestra, it is such a group effort and such a high caliber performance,” she said.
Shallenbarger said he often hears audience members remark that a show is “so professional I forgot it was high school.”
“This is a community with a high level of sophistication for the arts and an historical appreciation of the arts, not just as a hobby,” he said.