A background in dance is paying off for performer Erica Lynn, who deftly stepped into the starring role of "Legally Blonde," opening at Friday at Ovation Theatre.

After first being cast in a smaller role, then moving up to a secondary part, the 19-year-old Bakersfield College student and Bakersfield Dance Center instructor took over the lead role a week before opening. (Previously cast actress Alyssa Bonanno had to drop out late in the rehearsal process.)

Lynn stars as the plucky can-do Elle Woods, who heads to Harvard Law School to win back college boyfriend Warner (Cody Garcia).

As for stepping into the role so late in the game, Lynn said it paid to be familiar with the material.

"Being a part of the musical from the beginning definitely made becoming Elle easier," she wrote in an email. "But also my best friend and I spent four months listening to the soundtrack almost nonstop in the car, so that definitely helped a lot!"

Director Jarred Clowes, who's has to navigate his share of last-minute casting changes, is confident in his star's abilities.

"Accidents happen, life happens. She knew the blocking, she knew the songs."

Clowes said fans of the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon should notice that there's more heart to this show.

"There is an undercurrent of emotion in the show that will surprise a lot of people. It's 'fun plus' — there is a message hidden in the ice cream."

Whereas the movie hews closer to the tale of a girl who learns to believe in herself and to keep trying, the musical starts with someone who is already confident and capable. Elle challenges Professor Callahan (Rikk Cheshire) to help defend fellow Delta Nu and murder defendant Brooke Wyndham (Liz Borud).

"What this story is about is the scope of her imagination, opening herself to recognize opportunities. ... She's learned there’s a bigger world out there."

Clowes also said that the relationship between Elle and Emmett (Jordan Fulmer) is developed further in this show.

That's highlighted in the number "Take It Like a Man," in which the pair shop for new clothes for Emmett to boost his self-confidence.

"There is a moment that we built into the show, that moment where the audience wonders 'will they or won't they?' We play that up. It's one of the most tense moments. I love it every time we get to that scene."

Like her director, Lynn agrees that the musical's Elle is a more exciting role to take on.

"Her determination and ability to lead by example is inspiring. She's so much fun and I'm excited to bring that fun onstage."

The show also stars Kat Clowes, Tim Adamson, Nichole Heasley and Ariel Clark.

"Legally Blonde" opens this weekend and runs through Aug. 26 with Sunday showings at 2 p.m. (Aug. 13) and 6 p.m. (this Sunday and Aug. 20). Clowes said the later Sunday performances are an experiment to see if local audiences are receptive to a non-matinee option.

Opening weekend performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday at Ovation, 1622 19th St. Tickets are $35, available at theovationtheatre.com or eventbrite.com.


If fresh-faced law students aren't your speed, check out the seasoned crew over at Stars Theatre Restaurant. This weekend marks the return of the popular annual revue "Wrinkles," whose claim to fame is that performers must be 55 or older to take part.

Director Beverly Ragsdale returns for the fifth year.

"I think the love of the theater keeps me coming back," she wrote in an email.

Ragsdale also performs in the cast of 30, which ranges in age primarily from 55 to 70, which features Stars' executive producer Jim Fillbrandt and Virginia Lennemann, who, being in her late 80s, has the honor of bring the oldest cast member.

"This is a show that gives our over-55 show people a chance to get back on the stage. There aren't many current shows that have parts for them."

Performers are a mix of theater veterans — including Norman Colwell, Roland Brown and Karen DeWalt, who also serves as an assistant director alongside Carly Pape — and those new to Stars.

That includes Kim McAbee Carter, no stranger to a stage as a frequent performer with the Buckaroos at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace and co-founder of the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame. She performs one of Ragsdale's favorite numbers in the show, "Suds in a Bucket."

"There is also some great line dancing by our cast dancers," the director said.

Gail Schweikart choreographed the show and Brenda Baldwin provided vocal direction. Piano accompaniment is provided by James Tyson and Terry Cano, who also performs in the show.

Ragsdale said, "For all of us it's just a lot of work and a lot of fun!"

"Wrinkles" runs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Stars, 1931 Chester Ave. Tickets range from $30-$50, and are available by calling 325-6100 or at bmtstars.com.

Youth theater

Back to school? Students in the remaining youth theater workshops have more pressing concerns as shows debut or continue this weekend. Over at The Empty Space, Tonicism Productions launches its two shows: Disney's "Lion King Jr." and "She Kills Monsters."

The popular animal tale features actors Mason McCarthy then Noah Wallace Lague as Simba, playing the cub who would be king at different parts in the story. The show also stars Gracie Darling and Claire Michael (Nala and young Nala, respectively), Josephine Dethlefson (Rafiki), Najila Miller (Mufasa), Diego Porras (Timon) and Maggie Lehman (Pumbaa).

Not as well known as the Disney tale, "She Kills Monsters" is a show-stopper in its own right. Challenging our notions of what it means to be popular and accepted, the show centers on Agnes (Bella Long), a popular cheerleader who loses her younger sister, Tilly (Maggie Lehman), in a car accident.

Agnes goes on a quest to learn more about her sister, a “geek” who sought refuge in fantasy games like “Dungeons & Dragons.” She begins playing the game and learns more from D&D characters played by Shaylee Treadwell, Antoinette Dethlefson and Gracie Darling.

Disney's "The Lion King Jr." runs 7 p.m. Saturday and Aug. 11, 2 p.m. Sunday and Aug. 12. "She Kills Monsters" will be performed 7 p.m. Friday and Aug. 12 and 2 p.m. Saturday and Aug. 13. All shows will be held at The Empty Space, 706 Oak St. Tickets are $10, $5 for children 18 and under, available tonicism.com.

Also on tap in youth theater is "Law and Order C-rhyme and Pun-ishment” from the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame Junior Theatre workshop. The tale delves into the nursery rhyme justice system as Inspector and Punnish Sir investigate the shattering of Humpty Dumpty. Performances are at 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday at Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame, 2231 R St. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Call 864-1710 for more information.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.