This coming weekend is the first showing of the RPI Player’s new musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Even though I only viewed a rehearsal, I can say that this is definitely a fun and enjoyable show that is worth watching. The actors, music, and setting all work together to create a great performance that cannot be missed.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes follows Lorelei Lee, a ditzy young blonde from Little Rock, Ark. and her brusque friend, Dorothy Shaw, as they travel to France. Lee is engaged to Gus Esmond, the heir to a button empire, who gives her a letter of credit for her trip with Shaw. While on board the ship to France, Lee is convinced Esmond has found out a secret from her past and begins flirting with other men, all while Dorothy is flirting with men on her own. What ensues is a hilarious adventure of the mischievous Lee and the callous Shaw both learning what they truly want rather than what they think they want.
My only experience with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes prior to my viewing of the Player’s rendition was the 1953 Marilyn Monroe film, which I found was very different. Although the basic premise is the same, characters completely changed, such as millionaire Henry Spofford being replaced with Private Detective Ernie Mallone, or were omitted, like the zipper king Josephus Gage. As well, story elements were completely changed. Lee does not have an old secret to hide like in the musical, she just flirts with other men because she can. The film has had a lasting influence on pop culture, especially Monroe’s performance, but the Player’s performance is very different, in more than just characters and story.
The biggest discrepancy between the two versions is the setting; the film takes place in the 1950s, while the musical is set three decades earlier, in the Roaring ’20s. This time in history has had a recent surge in popularity with The Great Gatsby, released in 2013, reviving the grandeur and style of the time. This musical perfectly encapsulates what makes that point in history so interesting to many; the way the cast talk and act are so exciting and fun, it’s hard not to want to emulate them. But, unfortunately, we live almost a century too late, so we just have films and musicals to capture these moments for us.
The cast of the show is excellent; you’ll hear many transatlantic accents from the actors, expressing the perceived voice we think of when we see a character from that era. Lee, portrayed by Alison Kennicutt ’15, is fantastic. Her intense charisma and allure shine throughout the performance. However, I find that her onstage friend Dorothy, played by Emily Fernandes ’13, constantly steals the spotlight. She is so incredibly expressive that I found myself looking to her during many scenes just to see how she reacts. Her relationship with uptight Spofford, played by Bryce Miller ’16, and his on stage mother, portrayed by Maggie O’Connor ’14, always brings laughs. While the spotlight may be on the actors and their characters, I believe the whole ensemble is great and works well together for a fun performance.
But what makes a musical is not just the actors, but the music, and it does not disappoint. A 24-member orchestra performs all the music stage left, and it sounds amazing. The Roaring ’20s can’t be portrayed without a good soundtrack. Jazz is the most predominant music throughout the musical; blaring trumpets and other brass immerse you in the era. Smooth drum beats rock you back in time, and the vocals from the cast are excellent, especially when the whole ensemble joins together. The entire soundtrack is well performed, though one song stood out over the rest for me. While “Bye, Bye Baby,” “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and even the namesake “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”are more characterized to the musical, I could not stop humming “Keeping it Cool with Coolidge” for days after watching the show, and I know any viewer will have trouble keeping any of the songs out of their heads.
This semester, the Players have brought out their best with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The cast and music make the performance fantastic, and I must give a hand to the set designers and workers for building the Roaring ’20s aesthetic for the characters to perform in, because it ties the whole piece together. The Players will be having their first show this Friday, April 25 at 8 pm, with more showings on April 26 at 8 pm and April 27 at 2 pm. If you miss this weekend, don’t worry; there will be three more shows the following weekend on May 1, 2, and 3. Be sure to check it out for an entertaining experience you won’t forget.