Legally Blonde charged with empowerment

Sofie Kennedy and Sophie Monzo

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The theatre department strives to empower women with upcoming spring musical Legally Blonde which features numerous female leads.    

“I was looking for a vehicle for young women in this school,” director Tim Herbert says. “We have never done a show that I can think of where the creative team was majority females.”     

The show features around 30 actresses. Lead Elle Woods, played by sophomore Eloise Lushina, is a blonde UCLA sorority girl from Malibu. Her boyfriend, Warner Huntington, played by senior Josh Peng, is a jock from a rich family who belittles Elle throughout the beginning of the show. Elle’s journey to finding self respect leads her to become a lawyer at Harvard Law School and break up with Warner.    

“The story is a huge rollercoaster. [Elle] is a completely changed person at the end of the show,” Lushina says. “She has a new sense of self worth and a new mindset. I think the overall message is female empowerment.”    

This show not only gives the spotlight to actresses, but also brings a lighthearted and a certain bubbliness to the stage. In previous spring musicals like The Bluest Eye, which also featured a female lead, the plot was somber and filled with tragedy.      

“We try to reiterate all the time that it should be fun, or it’s really not worth it. It takes a great amount of focus and concentration to do as close to a professional performance as possible,” Herbert says.     

Although the theatre department’s choice to perform Legally Blonde is a big step in the right direction for promoting gender equality and honoring ETHS’ immensely talented female actresses, cast members have reflected upon the original production’s whiteness.    

“[T]here is an amount of white feminism in this musical that can’t be ignored. As it has been played in its most popular settings, the exclusivity of the name alone ‘Legally Blonde’ is reflected in its cast and breadth of message,” Peng says. “However, in my opinion, the diversity of the ETHS cast, in which around half of the leads are students of color, helps strengthen what might have otherwise been a diluted message.”    

While the white feminism message was an early concern for Peng and the rest of the cast, Peng has taken a personal look at what his portrayal of Warner Huntington III, an upperclass, white male, means to him.   

“To be able to put myself, an Asian American from an immigrant family, into the role of someone who is a typically white character, while putting my story behind his face and making the narrative my own, is empowering to me,” Peng says. “I hope it will be empowering for members of the audience when they see so many talented minority and underrepresented performers on stage expanding on what was originally a narrow message, making it a broader, more intersectional story. The ETHS production of Legally Blonde and its coming of age message resonated with me, a first-time actor; growing up, I rarely saw anyone who looked like me on stage or in the media, but I’ve learned to embrace my voice in theatre and the performing arts in the last few months.”    

The cast of 40 students, two dogs, director Herbert, tech director Aaron Carney, vocal director Mary Theresa Reed, orchestra conductor Charles Abplanalp, choreographer Jenna Schoppe and student assistant director Mia Rehwaldt work toward producing the broadway version of Legally Blonde by attending over 17 hours of practice a week.

Auditions were held in January and lasted for about a week. During these auditions, students not only showcased their acting skills but were also required to sing and dance.  

 

“After initial auditions, we try to figure out who might work in particular roles and have a few rounds of callbacks that are really intense and crazy,” Herbert explains.    

Potential dogs were also brought onto the stage to audition, a first for the theatre department. The dogs were tested to see how they would react to lights and loud noises. The newest cast members, that have already seemed to take the hearts of many of the actors, are the two bulldogs, Wendy and Pudding who play Bruiser and Rufus, respectively.    

Alongside the actors, over 25 crew members work up to 18 hours a week designing and creating the sets. Their creative process started in March and is likely to continue up to opening night, something crew members are used to.   

“[Tech] director Aaron Carney based his original design on images of sets used in other productions of the musical, like the original Broadway version and the production at the West End in London,” senior stage manager Michaela Brooke says. “Most of the inspiration for the design was pulled from other productions of the musical, but we definitely took some design cues from the movie, for example the ‘80s inspired interior design of the salon.”    The work behind the scenes is almost entirely done by students. During the run of the show, student leaders are put in charge of directing every technical aspect: building and painting the sets, hanging the lights, setting up the sound system and making the props.

       

   “As the stage manager, I call all of the lighting and sound effect cues to the light and sound board operators to make sure they happen on time,” Brooke says. “The head of spots directs all of the spotlight operators, the heads of sound keep track of the microphone levels during the show and the head of shifting manages all of the crew backstage who move and fly in set pieces.”   

These dozens of dedicated individuals will be premiering their hard work on Legally Blonde April 26, April 27, May 3 and May 4 in the main auditorium at 7:30 p.m. for $12 at www.ethstheatre.com.