Blonde Ambition

The Shedd puts on a frothy, sparkling production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for OFAM

Intellectual though he was, writer H.L. Mencken positively came undone, his friend Anita Loos observed, under the beguiling spell of some … blonde.

Loos was inspired to document Mencken’s lovestruck unraveling, first as a fictional serial in Harper’s Bazaar, and later in her bestselling 1925 novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was read by simply everyone, dahling. Jazz-Age stalwarts, from Edith Wharton to William Faulkner and James Joyce, praised Loos’ daffy depiction of life in the Roaring Twenties, chronicling, according to Loos herself, the era’s “idiots and fools.”

Written as the diary of a dizzy young flapper from Little Rock, Arkansas, named Lorelei, with misspellings, malapropisms and all, Loos’ novel, the subsequent 1949 Broadway musical (with adaptation by Loos and starring Carol Channing) and a 1953 film (with screenplay by Loos and starring Marilyn Monroe) cemented Lorelei in American iconography and defined Anita Loos as one of the most pioneering and successful creative women of the last century.

Flash-forward to The Shedd’s Oregon Festival of American Music 2014, and Lorelei lives again, in this frothily engaging production directed by Ron Daum, with musical direction by Robert Ashens.

“The good thing about diamonds is they always look new,” espouses Lorelei, played with gusto by Shannon Coltrane. Angie Fisher’s Dorothy provides comic sass to Lorelei’s lilt. And together, these two gal pals are a force. If it’s romantic novelty they seek, they needn’t look far on this cruise ship bound for Paris, replete with multiple swains, including the entire U.S. Men’s Olympic team.

Potential suitors abound, and Trevor Eichorn shines as a spot-on Henry Spofford III, an upright “college man” who gets weak-kneed around Dorothy. Eichorn’s approachable physicality and magnetic facial expressions fill the Hult Center’s cavernous Silva Hall. Likewise, Matt Musgrove is refreshingly broad as zipper salesman and health nut Josephus Gage.

Choreographer Laura Hiszczynskyj takes full advantage of the sizeable cast, creating sporting numbers that have a consistently cheeky and athletic ring.

Playful sets by Mark Huisenga transport us from New York to Paris. And like dollops of rainbow sherbet, Jamie Parker’s costumes poke fun at the excess and eccentricities of the age.
The Shedd’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes runs through Sunday Aug. 10 at the Hult’s Silva Concert Hall; $11-$46.