Claire Trevor School of the Arts Drama Department opened its 2018-2019 season with the award-winning broadway musical “Legally Blonde” on Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. The delightfully hilarious show, teeming with over the top stereotypes, is pushed into the arena of 21st-century relevance by director Myrona DeLaney.
The musical, based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the popular 2001 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie of the same name, follows Delta Nu President Elle Woods’ (played by Madison Dietrich) “hair-brained” scheme to win back her elitist, Harvard Law-bound ex-boyfriend Warner (played by Tristan Turner), who dumped her to find someone who was “less of a Marilyn, more of a Jackie.” For the most part, the musical follows the storyline of the film with a few tweaks here and there — like replacing the iconic personal essay video with a dance number in the Harvard admissions office and giving salon owner and one of Elle’s best friends Paulette (played by Lilian Wouters) an affinity for Ireland, to name a few.
Made up entirely of student performers, UCI’s “Legally Blonde” has no shortage of star power. It’s hard to imagine Elle Woods as anyone but the feisty and formidable Reese Witherspoon, but Dietrich takes on the role with the tenacity of a star-in-the-making. She is quick, spirited, and delivers ridiculous lines with endearing sincerity (“What, like it’s hard?”). Turner delivers big vocals in the song “Serious,” when his character blindsides Elle by breaking up with her when she’s expecting a proposal. Unbelievably, Turner’s rendition might be better than the original Broadway recording. Connor Marsh plays crowd favorite Emmett Forrest, Elle’s first Harvard friend, tutor, and eventual love interest. His performances of “Chip On My Shoulder” and “Take It Like A Man” provide two snapshots of his character, the former being driven if not slightly cynical, the latter quirky and charming as he realizes his feelings for Elle. Marsh sings with an excitement that is undeniably lovable, and stands as a key component of Elle’s growth.
The supporting cast is colorful to say the least. A rainbow of sorority girls makes up an empowering “greek chorus,” aggressive Peace Corps activist and Harvard Law classmate Enid Hoopes (played by Veronica Renner) offers hilarious outbursts of rage against the “phallocentric war machine,” and a UPS man (played by Jesse Bourque) in very tight shorts inspires a sassy “Bend and Snap” number. This show is choc full of hyperbolic personalities (the list of random characters could go on), each bringing their own flare to the stage. For a show that has such silly songs as “There Right There!,” which debates whether a man is gay or just European in a giant courtroom dance number, the random, flamboyant characters fit right in.
While the musical hits all the marks of a 2007 comedy — caricatured versions of stereotypes and a spotting of politically incorrect jokes — it also contends with the difficult topic of workplace sexual harassment, which has a more potent effect in the age of #MeToo. Elle is forcibly kissed by the man who gave her her law internship, Professor Callahan (played by Gavin Mueller). When Elle slaps Callahan across the face, he scornfully fires her from the internship. What follows is a moving performance by Dietrich of the titular track “Legally Blonde” where Elle feels so reduced and ashamed by the incident that she wants to give up on law school, forget her new dreams, and head back to her home in Malibu.
Luckily for Elle, her friends surround her with support and empower her to reclaim her identity. In a montage of positivity, there’s a nod to modern day feminist movements as Elle grabs a Women’s March poster on the side of the stage, a nice addition to the show by DeLaney. Back in her original head-to-toe pink and armed with learned wit, Elle takes Callahan’s job in the trial of exercise empress Brooke Wyndham (played by Milan Magana) who as a former Delta Nu sister, trusts Elle the most out of the fellow interns. To no one’s surprise, Elle wins the case thanks to her savvy knowledge of hair care.
The final song, “Find My Way,” transitions from the winning scene in the courtroom to Harvard Law graduation, where Elle gives her valedictorian speech. Dietrich’s rendition of the song is filled with grit, embodying Elle’s success in the wake of her (court) trials and tribulations. This last number ties the show together in a triumphant, pink bow.
Kicking off UCI Drama’s “Against All Odds” themed season, “Legally Blonde” is a cleverly choreographed, enthusiastically performed, and culturally relevant testament to the female spirit’s ability to overcome.
“Legally Blonde” is playing at the Irvine Barclay Theatre through Sunday Nov. 18. Student tickets can be purchased here.