It is very uncommon for a movie-adapted musical to be better than the actual movie. The music and acting typically fall short. Legally Blonde the Musical is the exception. Ever since its broadway debut, Legally Blonde has developed a large fanbase and has left a big impression on the Broadway community.
After just six shows, Legally Blonde achieved the highest attendance of a COC musical in the history of the college. According to Paul Wickline, the theater department chair, the final account for attendance was 2,704 people.
When I found out College of Canyons was bringing it to the Performing Arts Center, I thought it was bold and risky. The music is high-energy, the characters are dynamic and the story is more elaborate than in the film. It is an extremely difficult show to put on and it doesn’t occur very often that a local production can pull it off.
I was able to visit a dress rehearsal two days before opening night to get an idea of the process. I entered through the backstage area and was surprised to find the little chihuahua playing Bruiser, Elle’s dog, in a pink sweater running around. They really went all out.
“I think the audience will be impressed with the production merely on a scale level,” director Matthew McCray said. “It’s a gigantic production.”
The production had 30 actors who each went through a strenuous rehearsal schedule since March 3.
“Every day except Fridays. We’d have rehearsal from 7-10 p.m. and then it went to 5-10 p.m.,” Savannah Haerle-Crow, who plays Elle’s sorority sister, Serena, said.
Sitting in the empty arena, I was able to get insight on how much work actually goes into these productions before it’s open to the public. Everyone in the crew was scrambling to get the student actors and sets ready, the brand new state-of-the-art lighting was being experimented with and the orchestra was rehearsing the same song so many times that it was hard to not hum along. The musical theater program takes their productions extremely seriously and the show definitely reflects that.
During this rehearsal, the sets were not completely finished, some dance numbers were not carried out strong and the show had to pause a couple times to restage. In just two days, the show would open and I was anxious to see if they could pull it off.
Come opening night, May 1, it was a full house. There were all different types of people who came to see the show: COC students, families of the cast and moms with young girls dressed in pink who were evidently excited about the show.
The first act begins with its opening song, “Omigod You Guys.” This number is really hard to pull off. It’s very easy for the audience to be turned off after being slapped in the face with such a girly song so early in the show. But it introduces the main character, Elle Woods, and her perfect little world at UCLA with her sorority sisters. Without a doubt, it is a fun song if you keep an open mind.
Shortly after we meet Elle, she encounters the worst tragedy when her Harvard-bound boyfriend, Warner, breaks up with her for being a stereotypical blonde instead of proposing to her, as she was expecting (which makes for a pretty hilarious ballad). After going through a shame spiral, Elle comes to the realization that if Warner wants someone “serious,” she’ll need to transform into the girl Warner wants. One of the most elaborate and impressive numbers in the show, “What You Want,” follows her during her process of trying to get into Harvard, having to miss out on the “Spring Fling Beer Bash Extreme,” all the way to her “personal essay” that serves as a big dance number with a marching band. This number is where the show really picks up and gets exciting.
The show had some downfalls as well. Elle finally gets to Harvard and later discovers that Warner has already moved on to a new girlfriend, Vivienne. This leads to the emergence of Elle’s Greek chorus, consisting of her UCLA sorority sisters that she sees in her head, to help her with her tragedy. Their first song as a Greek chorus, “Positive,” really fell short. The song has great lyrics and so much potential to be a really fun, large-scale number but the execution was unimaginative.
In act two, there was an elaborate jumprope number that was choreographed better than the original version on Broadway. “Whipped Into Shape,” was high energy, funny, and did a great job of introducing Brooke Wyndham, the fitness queen accused of murdering her rich husband.
Of course, Legally Blonde can’t be Legally Blonde without the trademark “Bend and Snap,” which was easily the best part of the show. The Greek chorus redeems themselves by teaching their secret weapon to Paulette, Elle’s beautician friend, so she can impress the new UPS guy.
One of the standout performers in the show was Kelly Boardman, who played Paulette. Her interpretation was different in all of the best ways. Her character was bold and spunky yet self-conscious and all-around relatable. Her ballad in the first act, “Ireland,” was beautifully sung and made the audience sympathize with her character’s struggles with her loser ex-boyfriend. Boardman did a great job of portraying a character that everyone wanted to root for.
One of the best aspects of the musical that the film lacks in is the development of Elle’s relationship with Emmett, the smart and sensitive law student who takes Elle under his wing. Lindsay Kazan (Elle) and Colin Robert (Emmett) had great chemistry. The song that sparks the romance, “Take It Like a Man,” showed Elle taking Emmett to a department store to buy a new suit to impress Professor Callahan. As simple as it sounds, the number was undeniably sweet and funny at the same time as sales associates offered spritz’ of “Love” by Chanel and “Context” from Calvin Klein. “Love” was literally in the air.
The musical had its emotional aspects, too. Elle faces a conflict where she feels like she is forced to go back home to Los Angeles and go back to the life she belongs to. In the heart-rending ballad “Legally Blonde,” Emmett finally confesses his love for Elle despite the fact that she has already come to the decision she would be going home. The emotion from both Kazan and Robert effectively made the song a tearjerker. As much as I tried to hide it, tears were definitely forming.
COC’s production of Legally Blonde the Musical was all-around fun and entertaining. The show ran on the weekends of May 1-10.
“I think because people think of Legally Blonde as a very feminine story, because it’s usually associated with pink and little dogs, it actually has an amazingly universal message,” McCray said. “I think it appeals to everybody. It’s just a very fun, very high energy musical.”