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It’s time to think pink, as everyone’s favourite blonde lawyer finally takes to the stage and for the first time ever, comes to Singaporean shores with the musical adaptation of Legally Blonde!
Based off the 2001 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer smash hit film of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde follows the tale of sorority girl, fashionista and lover of all things pink Elle Woods as she applies (and gets into!) Harvard School of Law to be with her boyfriend Warner. But in Harvard, she finds herself a fish out of water as she struts in glamorous and pink. Can she find her true calling in life with the help of her new friends – teaching assistant Emmett, hairdresser Paulette and a Greek chorus of UCLA sorority sisters?
At the media preview of the show, audiences were treated to two numbers from the show – What You Want, the song and dance number Elle uses to convince the admissions officers to let her into Harvard, and a snippet from the Finale as Elle and company graduate from Harvard at last. In both numbers, we got a sneak peek at the newly introduced digital video screens to add depth and visual oomph to the set, as well as an idea of the kind of high energy numbers we’d be experiencing later tonight with the full musical.
Even 17 years on from the original film, and 10 since the musical first premiered, it’s a show that remains surprisingly relevant even today. Says director Jeffrey B. Moss: “You know, we’ve got these girls singing ‘Omigod’ and that’s fun, but underneath that, there’s a sweet sentimental story about a girl who shows us that being true to yourself never goes out of style. The fun of this show is trying to capture the spirit of Elle, and invite the audience to share in that and come on that journey with us.”
Jeffrey continues: “It’s not Hamlet, but it’s got its own voice and has something to say. It’s unapologetic that it’s got all these silly moments, and really, my job is about finding that underlying truth to keep it interesting, and discovering that truth while encasing it in all this joy and fun. People might dismiss it as a pop musical, but there’s heart and truth in this show that keeps it alive. Elle Woods is for me, like Eliza Doolittle. She’s the smartest person in the room to begin with, and although she initially goes to Harvard to be with her man, she makes a discovery as to what’s truly important to her.”
Laurence O’Keefe’s score is partially what makes Legally Blonde such a fun romp every step of the way, but nonetheless, proves to be a challenge at times for the capable band taking it on. Says Music Director Wendy: “There are so many key changes and it can be hard to get some of these strange melodies into your head, but once you learn the song, it’s very exciting to get the band together with the singers and hear how it all sounds together.”
It’s not an easy job at all for Wendy, who doubles up as keyboardist, and is backed up by a band of seven other musicians each with their own role (and more) to play. Says Wendy: “We don’t really get a break till the end of Act 1, but it’s definitely the most fun show I’ve worked on. I already get excited from the first notes we play from that opening overture, and it’s just amazing to become a coherent team and make music with this amazing band.”
And for such an energetic score, this is a musical that requires just as energetic a cast. Says Jayson Speters, who plays teaching assistant Emmett Forrest: “We’re heavily caffeinated. But really, the music alone already elevates the enegry of the show right from the get go, and the entire show is like a speeding train – once it starts, there’s no going back, and that’s the kind of rhythm that keeps it going.”
Says Mychal Phillips, who plays hairdresser Paulette Bonafonte: “There are days we’re tired or sick, but when we step onto the stage, we can rely on each other to get to the level we need to be. And Maris, well, her role is insane, she literally never leaves the stage, as well as the entire ensemble who have to keep dancing throughout. Some of them even have to change multiple times in a single number, and it’s as much of a show backstage as it is onstage.”
Interestingly, Mark LaDuke, who plays Warner Huntington, was once a top 40 boys contestant on a season of American Idol. Says the former Berklee College of Music student on making the move to musical theatre: “After school, I immediately moved up to LA and started to doing session work. I got so bored so fast, before going to the corporate world. Cue mental breakdown, and I came back and started auditioning for musicals instead. I never thought this would happen, but it’s been the saving grace for my mental stability, because it’s such a new form of art for me, and I’m just excited to see what it holds for me in future.”
On how relevant the musical remains today, Mychal comments: “It’s a show that’s all wrapped up in this bubblegum paper, but holds a very strong message. As women, we’ve been taught to identify ourselves as who we are by relation to other people. Elle is so focused on becoming the perfect girlfriend, the perfect wife, and when all of that gets taken away from her, she’s forced to figure out who she is on her own deep inside without anyone telling her who she is. It’s very exciting to watch someone go through that journey.”
And of course, a preview wouldn’t be complete without speaking to the star of the show herself, Maris McCulley, who plays Elle Woods. Says Maris on her preparation: “By the time we were in rehearsals, I’d already seen the film so many times that I didn’t even have to go back and reference it because Reese’s portrayal is just so iconic. It was most important to find an honest portrayal of all the characters, and for me to go through that journey as Elle every night is challenging but rewarding. I like to say that she does the right things for all the wrong reasons, yet they end up being the best things she ever did, and discovers her true value and confidence within her.”
In addition to her performance itself, Maris will also be handling a real live chihuahua, trained to do things like leap out of handbags, and who was auditioned for locally. Says Maris: “I love tiny dogs. I’ve always been afraid of big dogs because I think they were bigger than me when I was little! Each city we go to, we have a different chihuahua play Bruiser, and each of them are really adorable.”
On how she creates chemistry with them, Maris explains: “I like to spend time with the dogs offstage when I can, just talking to them, and when they’re familiar with you as a person, they’ll be more comfortable onstage. I wouldn’t be able to just take the dog and walk onstage without getting to know them. It’s important to hold them a little, pet them and have them get used to your scent and be your friend.”
Maris concludes: “Being a part of this show is really finding inspiration in Elle Woods. She goes from being a caricature to a real person, and that’s why she’s so fun to play. Sometimes there’s a part of me that isn’t sure I can do this, but I draw confidence from how she always dares to be herself. It’s so rewarding working with the whole production team, getting to know them both onstage and off, it’s been a wonderful wild ride, and we’re so happy to be able to share this with Singapore.”
Catch Maris, Jayson, Mychal and Mark, alongside the rest of this fantastic, limitless cast in this brief but powerful production of Legally Blonde: The Musical, as they perform their hearts out and show you that being true to yourself never goes out of style.
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Legally Blonde plays at Sands Theatres at Marina Bay Sands from 10th – 20th May 2018. Tickets available from SISTIC, but just for our readers, there’s a special 50% off if you visit the MBS website here!