By Rachele Stoops
Legally Blonde The Musical, The Lied Center, February 23, 2023
Confession time: this was not my first time in the audience of Legally Blonde The Musical. I’d attended more than one performance of this high energy musical when Southwest High School presented it in the spring of 2018: my daughter, Micayla, was in the cast. Micayla is the very same daughter who also accompanied me to the Pinewood Bowl production in summer 2018 AND the Lied Center performance on Thursday, February 23, 2023. And of course, I’d seen the 2001 movie. More than once.
OMG, it was totally worth seeing again.
Legally Blonde began as a 2001 novel by Amanda Brown, and was immediately turned into a hit movie the same year, with Reese Witherspoon playing the titular blonde. The movie’s sequel was released in 2003, and the stage version (finally!) appeared in 2007.
The story follows Elle Woods, blonde, popular, a senior at UCLA and president of her sorority. She’s anticipating that evening’s dinner date, where she expects her boyfriend, Warner, to propose. Instead, he ends the relationship, informing Elle that he needs someone “serious” beside him as he works towards a career in politics. Elle decides to follow Warner to Harvard Law School, armed with her signature pink wardrobe and her dog, Bruiser. (Bruiser is a chihuahua, and since I also own/spoil/submit to a chihuahua, I recognize the name is probably not ironic.)
The show itself is big and loud and bright, and the touring company was effervescent. The set is mostly large, vertical screens, where projections can be detailed without increasing costs or transportation issues. The set pieces were smoothly wheeled on and off stage by cast members. I did miss some of the ingenuity of a traditional set and backdrop, but it’s just a personal preference. Logically, the projections make much more sense.
Legally Blonde The Musical opens with a sorority musical number and takes off running through the first act. The action moves quickly, and vocally there isn’t a weak spot on stage.
During intermission, Micayla and I chatted with another member of the LSW cast, who was seated near us. One of the things we all noticed and appreciated was the updated technological references added to the script. The original movie came out twenty-two years ago, after all, and it tickled us to watch Elle talk to her parents over Facetime, or to see Elle’s friend, Emmett, find her law books still in the Amazon package they came in.
Micayla and her fellow LSW cast member both thought that the phone use was a little too much, referencing one character who filmed himself during several scenes like an influencer. It seemed pretty realistic to me. And we would all have preferred for Elle’s hair stylist friend, Paulette, to reunite with her dog in person, instead of in a slightly awkward video.
The second act offers Elle her first chance to work on a real criminal trial (in her first year of law school – is that normal?). She’s on a team with Emmett, Warner, Warner’s new girlfriend, Vivienne, and Enid, another classmate.
Aathaven Tharmarajah, playing Emmett, is the sensitive soul with the frumpy wardrobe, and his voice is beautiful and powerful. Tharmarajah’s sincerity contrasts nicely with the too smooth Warner, played by James Oblak. Oblak played Warner with enough superficial charm that I could almost understand Elle dating him in the first place.
Vivienne’s (Leah Sevola) character has a personal growth arc almost as important as Elle’s, and Sevola played her gradual metamorphosis with class, emphasized by her impressive vocals. Like the others, Enid (Harley Barton) has an incredible voice, when she gets to let it loose. Enid’s character, though, leaned too heavily on the outdoorsy lesbian trope, and turned her into more of a caricature. This stuck out, because the other main characters are more like enhanced realism than cartoons.
One of the first things we noticed about the show was the cast itself. There are people of color in main and ensemble roles, which should be an ‘of course’ but isn’t always. More surprising was the variety of body types represented on stage. Legally Blonde would be an easy show for size 0 wearing bodies to monopolize, but that wasn’t the case here. Yes, all of the women cast were at or below the average for women in the US, but they weren’t all bone thin. It was exciting to see a professional show with actors in crop tops and short shorts regardless of the traditional sorority girl stereotype. I actually felt like this production was more accessible to the audience, especially to young people interested in acting careers. If someone had thought they couldn’t join the cast of a high energy, dance heavy musical because they didn’t have a very slim body type, this show would dispel that notion.
This wasn’t the only detail that makes this show feel modern and present in 2023. In Act 2, Elle has an unwanted physical encounter that tempts her to quit law school and go back to Beverly Hills, but her friends – including Vivienne – encourage her to stand her ground. In the background of the original scene, a number of them are holding picket signs with messages like ‘no means no’.
Although there are other poignant moments in the second act, particularly when Elle and Emmett are alone on an almost empty stage, the picket line is what made me tear up for a second. I’m so thankful that I could watch this show with its heartwarming example of support next to my 19 year old daughter, just a few years younger than Elle is when she’s confronted by the issues in this show.
The whole company sustained their energy throughout the performance and the aerobic dance numbers never faltered. I especially loved the Irish step dance. I reviewed Lord of the Dance at the Lied last year, so the connection, while superfluous, made me smile.
Elle, played by Hannah Bonnett, carries most of the show on her shoulders, and she did a solid job, perfectly portraying Elle’s array of emotions and presenting a believable example of a girl used to being adored.
Another standout for me was Paulette the hairstylist, played by Ashley Morton. She just killed it, vocally and otherwise.
Chris Carsten as Professor Callahan was both intimidating and creepy, and Nikos and Carlos (Pablo Pernia and Brandon Moreno, respectively) were the cutest.
Elle’s client, Brooke, played by Kaelee Albritton, was another whose voice really stood out. She leads a group in what looks like a superhuman dance using jump ropes (“Whipped Into Shape”). Every time I see that dance I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting for someone to hit themselves in the leg with one of those nylon jump ropes moving a million miles an minute! At least half of the number was projected as a TikTok, but it still seems to me like the most difficult dance routine ever.
I also want to give a shout out to Meg Frost, who played the court stenographer, because that’s the role my daughter played in 2018. Go Court Stenographer!!
I believe there’s so much more to this show than meets the eye. You can approach Legally Blonde as a fun and funny show with a simple theme, heavy on the entertainment. Or you can enjoy the show and still consider the deeper messages; the importance of support during challenging times, the ability to learn from failure and let it guide you, and that no one, not even Harvard Law School professors, can touch you without your consent.
Oh, and please listen to your hairstylist when they tell you how to take care of your perm.
If you go: Legally Blonde The Musical performs Friday, February 24, at 7:30pm; and Saturday, February 25, at both 2:00pm and 7:30pm. Tickets available at https://www.liedcenter.org/events-page.
The show is loud, and there are scenes with flashing lights, so keep that in mind when you go.
Rachele Stoops teaches high school English by day, and juggles her increasing collection of projects and side hustles by night. She recently directed Murder on the Orient Express for Beatrice’s Community Players, and will spend her upcoming weekends at area craft shows with her handmade jewelry business, Cecil Caboose. Rachele has also started a nonprofit, Really Ready, to help incoming college freshmen be fully prepared to transition from high school. Rachele has four grown up kids, a fluffy and ill-mannered chihuahua, and a very, VERY patient husband.
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