‘Legally Brown’ guilty of spunk

Dance Dhamaka’s “Legally Brown” might sound like a Reese Witherspoon dye job gone wrong, but the show definitely had all the right hues. Last Friday and Saturday night the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance resonated with a high-energy performance that featured invigorating Bollywood music and a combination of South Asian dance styles in a fun-loving show before a responsive audience. Even those unfamiliar with the technical aspects of the dances could still follow along and be entertained by the accessibility of the plotline and the infectious energy of the dancers.

The show was loosely based around the hit movie Legally Blonde, which tells the story of an air-headed girl rejected by her Ivy-bound boyfriend and subsequent quest to prove him wrong by getting accepted to law school herself. The opening dance, “Will He Propose?” began unassumingly with three schoolgirls fitting the Blonde stereotype giggling over the supposedly guaranteed proposal of Brad (Kareem Khubchandani, assistant director of the Multicultural Center and choreographer) to his girlfriend, Radhika (Katya Prakash ’08), when suddenly the stage was completely filled with brightly colored dancers. Their synchronized group movements were immediately impressive, and enthusiastic smiles matched those plastered across the faces of the audience members. The number was a flurry of jumping up and down, clapping and leaping in the air in an utterly contagious display of fun that set a great precedent for the show to come. The endurance of the group was also remarkable – the number just kept going and going, but it was more than welcome, and probably a great cardio workout for them too.

These giant group numbers in traditional Bollywood style filled the show, but each featured different quirks so that none were too similar or lost their entertainment value. The subsequent dance, “Law School,” featured another funny moment as a dancer dressed as a mailman took Radhika’s application to the fictional college in question, “Williams University,” which was eerily similar to our own First Days experiences, as the dancers assembled in a W-shape dressed as junior advisors and a cappella group members.

Incorporating dancing into the plotline wasn’t a stretch – Radhika decided to sign up for “Bollylicious,” the University’s audition-free Bollywood/Bhangra dance troupe, giving Dance Dhamaka itself a little shameless and well-deserved self-promotion. The next number “Dance Practice” soon ensued, which combined a creative mixture of yoga poses, stretches and warm ups to add variety and interest before turning into a giant dance-off against the fictional Amherst dance team, Bhangratastic. The dance incorporated punching and kicking as the girls brawled, and while less traditional than previous numbers, it was just as entertaining.

The alternation between vignette scenes of actors advancing the plot and huge dance numbers provided a welcome break for dancers and often a comic relief, as when Radhika later visits the restaurant “Sushi Spice Garden.” Here, the show took a turn to the serious, as the restaurant owner (a cross-dressing Josh Goldberg-Sussman ’09) told Radhika that her husband was being held in jail on suspicion of terrorist activity post-Sept. 11 and that she couldn’t afford the lawyer’s fees to fund the case. While the suddenly serious moment came dangerously close to being uncomfortable due to its abruptness and unexpectedness, Goldberg-Sussman’s over-the-top crying humorously and quickly relieved the tension. One of the best moments in the show soon followed as Radhika pledged to help win the case, and Goldberg-Sussman taught her a dance move to win back Brad’s affections – not the “bend and snap” of Legally Blonde fame, but the “pray and dish.” As the dancers prepped onstage behind elaborate sequined scarves for Radhika’s transformation in the next number, “Makeover,” Goldberg-Sussman led the audience in practicing the step and even pulled a few audiences members on stage to demonstrate. The crowd’s tangible excitement at being involved in the action was a great precursor to the extremely well-choreographed and rehearsed “Makeover,” which featured some of the best dancing of the night as the stage sparkled as much as the dancers’ personalities.

The show then returned to a somber tone, as another of the night’s highlights, “The Courtroom,” began. Ironically, the scene wasn’t dancing at all, but the heartfelt spoken word poetry of Hari Ramesh ’11 and Mo Lotif ’11 accompanied by a thoughtful video projection on discrimination towards Muslims, Arabs and those of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent in post Sept. 11 America.

Ramesh and Lotif enraptured the audience with their poetry, which was a narrative of hopeful immigrants coming to America but instead encountering discrimination and prejudice. “Truth is never just black or white, but brown,” Ramesh said, encapsulating the theme of open-mindedness that was woven into the night. The video montage, created by Elliot Schrock ’11, featured Dance Dhamaka members providing statistics on harassment and racial profiling in the U.S., ending with an ad for Tolerance.org. While the night maintained a light-hearted and fun feel overall, these serious moments were a thought-provoking and welcome intellectual addition to the program.

The show’s lowest point was “The Red Light District,” a random striptease-like number following Radhika’s refusal to take Brad back. Unlike the usual light-hearted traditional feel of the majority of the show, the dance seemed out of place and was slower, darker and not as engaging as the rest of the program. While keeping with the sensuality that might be expected of a scene depicting Brad cheating on Radhika, the combination of rolling around on the floor and chairs to “One, Two, Step” was awkward and unnerving.

Following this misstep, the program quickly recovered with three successive strong group performances – “Bhangratastic Medley,” “Bollylicious Medley” and “Finale.” The first two pieces were the dance competition between Williams University and Amherst, and highlighted a fast-paced variety and increasing speed. The “Bollylicious Medley” in particular shone as a mixture of hip-hop dancing with traditional sensibilities. The mix of sharp and fluid movements created a perfect modern marriage of old and new that had a fun dance party feel. Appropriately, at the show’s conclusion many audience members literally danced out of the theater directly to a Bhangra-themed dance party hosted by the group. All in all, the verdict is in on “Legally Brown” – a massive success.