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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

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‘Blonde’ Moment

With plenty of perk and pep, ‘Legally Blonde’ closes 2012-13 mainstage season.

2013-04-08
Tanner Kent, Mankato Free Press 4-7-2013

As he put it, Paul Hustoles had no interest in a show about a “ditzy blonde who goes to Harvard.”

Even so, his wife still managed to drag him to a Broadway perform­ance of the musical “Legally Blonde” during a trip to New York a few years ago. After seeing it for him­self, Hustoles was converted.

“I immediately put it on my to- do list,” said the director and chair of Minnesota State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance.

“It’s just delightful.”

“Legally Blonde” opens at MSU on Thursday and closes the universi­ty’s 2012-13 Mainstage season. And it will certainly be hard to miss.

From the opening sorority scene in all its pink-hued, powder-puffing, hair-flipping glory through the sugar-heavy finale — MSU’s produc­tion of “Legally Blonde” is all about theatrics.

With the licensing rights to the musical only recently released to col­lege and professional theaters, there is little precedent for a production of MSU’s size. In fact, MSU is one of only a few colleges in the country that have decided to tackle the work. The cast alone includes 39 stu­dents with another 25 students on the technical side. The musical includes about two dozen song-and­dance numbers, a complicated (and very clever) set design and at least 17 costume changes for Elle, the main character whose California-to-Harvard-Law-School sojourn on the account of an unrequited love leads to personal and peer revelation.

Hustoles said the musical’s sac­charine surface belies a more con­templative subtext that challenges stereotypes and encourages viewers to plumb deeper than superficialities in the search for authenticity. “It’s not at all what I expected,” Hustoles said.

“It defies expectations.”

The production will also showcase some of MSU’s standout students.

The lead role is played by Callie Syverson, an MSU junior whom Hustoles considers a true triple threat — that is, a skilled singer, dancer and actress.

Syverson recently commanded a lead role in MSU’s “Spring Awakening,” another musical that showcased the Windom native’s varied talents. Amidst “Spring Awakening’s” dark, sexually blighted subject matter, Syverson’s stage presence as the naive Wendla was powerfully luminescent.

In the role of Wendla, Syverson played opposite Jake McInerney, himself a triple- threat actor who also plays her love interest in “Legally Blonde.”

Syverson was a recent regional finalist for the prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship and Hustoles compares her favorably to the Elle he saw on Broadway.

“She could make a living playing this role for the next decade,” he said. “As good as the person I saw on Broadway was, (Syverson) is there. She’s ready.”

The lighting director for “Legally Blonde” is Sam Juhnke, an MSU senior theater design/ technology student who has also earned some impressive accolades.

Juhnke, whose work Hustoles characterized as “stunning,” was recently named commencement speaker for the College of Arts and Humanities’ graduation ceremony.

Last summer, he worked with the Santa Fe Opera House; this summer, he’s working with Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y. He was named outstanding technician during the 2013 Region V Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and was named top technician during the United States Institute for Theatre Technology’s Tech Olympics.

Juhnke said his vision for “Legally Blonde” is “big, bright and loud” with lighting that will sculpt and accentuate the mood and action on stage.

He added that it’s a fitting production to culminate his MSU career.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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