With an extraordinary dancing and singing cast of 27, plus two scene-stealing live dogs, “Legally Blonde, the Musical” has stormed the stage of the Louis B. Mayer Theatre at Santa Clara University (SCU) with breath-taking force.
The energetic and funny musical, a tale of female empowerment told through song and dance, premiered in San Francisco in 2007 and plays June 1 – 9 at SCU. It mostly follows the storyline of the popular 2001 comedy movie “Legally Blonde,” based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Amanda Brown.
The novel is set at Stanford Law School, which Brown attended but did not graduate from. However, the movie, although filmed in California, is set at Harvard University Law School because Stanford didn’t approve of the movie script.
The story is about Elle Woods, a blonde, fashion-loving, sorority girl at a southern California college. She works hard to get accepted into the same graduate law school as her ex-boyfriend, hoping to win him back. Once there, she must overcome the stereotypical belief that blondes who wear pink are beautiful but dumb.
Through facing sexism and other obstacles, Elle builds her self-esteem and rises to the top of her law class. In the end, she no longer needs or wants her ex-boyfriend, seeing him as the opportunistic person he is.
“Legally Blonde, the Musical,” is directed by SCU Department of Theatre and Dance chair Kimberly Mohne Hill. Lecturer Pauline Locsin-Kanter is the choreographer, associate professor Jerald Enos the set designer, and Jesse Sanchez guest music director.
Hill said that the musical is a good fit for SCU because it has “incredibly strong musical theater talent” in the department, with more women than men.
“I’m absolutely excited to have these incredibly talented actors on the stage giving it 100 percent,” said Hill. “We have professional standards, and our students rise to it.”
Hill uncovered two interesting bits of information when researching the musical: Law school enrollment for women increased after the movie came out, and female lawyers reported that they dressed conservatively to take away from their attractiveness in order to be taken seriously in the courtroom.
When the movie first came out, the story was criticized as being predictable and clichéd. Nonetheless, it continues to be popular and relevant to audiences. At the May 31 dress rehearsal, the small audience of specially-invited high school students and others, loved the musical.
“I’m enjoying every minute of it. It’s astronomical. The energy is exciting,” said Jeffrey Gatdula from Oakland. “Elle has a fantastic voice. They all have great voices.”
Reese Witherspoon nailed the lead role of Elle Woods in the movie, receiving a 2001 nomination for (but not winning) Golden Globe Best Actress – Musical or Comedy. In the SCU musical production, Madison Sykes nails the role of Elle.
To build her stamina for the demanding dance routines with frequent quick costume changes, Sykes ran up and down stairs in the music building before practices. Out of six costume racks, one is dedicated to her character. The entire cast has more than 125 costume changes, which costume shop manager Patt Ness said was quite a challenge to chart and coordinate.
“… I’m a small blonde who loves pink and therefore loves the idea that a girl like Elle Woods can do anything,” said Sykes, a sophomore with a double major in English and Theater and previous musical stage experience.
“This show is so inspiring to so many people because, even though it is wrapped up in this superficial, energetic, entertaining, pink exterior, it has so many important messages buried just below the surface,” said Sykes.
“It speaks to how anyone can do things as long as you put your mind to it and put your best foot forward—no matter where you’re from, Malibu or Oakland, male or female, it doesn’t matter nowadays,” said Gatdula.
“The actors are very good, and it’s inspiring,” said Gage England, also from Oakland. “It has the message that you need to be yourself. You can’t be fake because it comes out wrong. You have to be you, so people could know the real you. Because if you’re fake, over time it will show.”