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Legally Blonde: Charming and Insightful

Posted by on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 in Blog posts, , , , .

This semester in Ingram Hall, Vanderbilt Off-Broadway (VOB) produced Legally Blonde, a musical based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture. A snowstorm in January required the group to shift the much-anticipated second and third showings of the musical from January 22 and 23 to February 6 and 7. Regardless, the entire cast under the direction of Kylie Field produced a self-aware, fantastically performed spectacle that explored many expansive ideas and themes relevant to an undergraduate student body such as feminism and Greek life.

The journey of Elle Woods, played by Megan Ward, explored many aspects of life. Her experiences navigating relationships, difficult academic environments, and a very diverse group of people are familiar to the student body. The cast was acutely aware of this and frequently played it up, as was particularly evident when discussing Warner’s older brother’s new fiancé, a Vanderbilt. They also modernized the musical so that some of the early-2000s charm the movie had was replaced with more familiar trends such as twerking.

This musical holds a particularly resonant message this time of the year as spring rush has just ended for many of the sororities on campus. The tote bags bearing house letters are hard to miss around campus as so many young women begin identifying themselves by their houses and newfound sisterhood. Elle’s Delta Nu sisters certainly played a key role in her identity over the course of the play. Three of her sisters even followed her across the country to Harvard in her imagination and frequently helped prove a point or open into a great dance number. Furthermore, when introducing herself for the first time in law school, Elle identified herself as first and foremost the president of Delta Nu.

Her staunch identification as a Delta Nu impacts her differently over the course of the musical. Initially, we see her position as president of the popular sorority has made her life wonderful in college. Because of this social status, she is in a relationship with the most popular boy on campus, Warner Huntington III (Jimmy Brunner). Unfortunately as she nears the end of her college career and face life in the real world, she finds that her sorority status is less of a positive force in her life. Warner, an aspiring future politician breaks up with her because she is not “serious” enough for him. Suddenly her role in Greek life is holding her back. Both her parents and Harvard admissions officers are confused by her decision to pursue Harvard law but she refuses to allow that to stop her. Significantly, however, she chooses not to discard her past as a Delta Nu, and it benefits her when the client she represents turns out to be Brooke Wyndham (Miranda Pepin), a former Delta Nu. Their sisterhood and shared experiences as Delta Nu members makes Wyndham trust Elle enough to share her alibi.

The two women helping each other out to the benefit of all is just one of the many strong examples of feminism in this musical. Elle is constantly underestimated because of her blonde hair, excellent fashion sense, and idealistic perspective on the world. Her trademark all-pink ensembles and pretty face are often all people see, as is made clear when Elle’s parents encourage her to stay in California and forgo a higher education and even in Harvard where her peers, some of the brightest minds in the world, look down on her and mock her. These low expectations of the bubble blonde sorority girl from California are not limited to the students, either. For example, when Professor Callahan makes sexual advances on her, she nearly loses her nerve. She believes that her opportunities were a result of her appearance, not skill, and nearly drops out of school, saying she is “too blonde” for Harvard. However she ultimately decides to take control of her life and smash that glass ceiling. She allows herself to achieve her full potential, regardless of the constraints placed upon her by society or her peers. This is an important message for women in the current day as well. In a society in which women’s rights are becoming an increasingly prevalent topic of discussion and contention, it is important to recognize the expectations placed upon women. Additionally, as many students look to the future and make important decisions regarding entering the work force or continuing their educations, it is absolutely necessary to believe in what they are capable of and not accept the constraints placed upon them by society or peers.

This powerful feminist message is arguably one of the greatest aspects of the Legally Blonde story, however VOB took it a few steps further. In the original film, the story ends with Elle’s environment finally accepting her and respecting her intelligence and capability. However in the performance, we see Elle’s peers learn from her as well. Elle gives Emmett Forrest (Taylor Gutierrez) a makeover, using the skills she undoubtedly gained as a fashion merchandising major from CULA to give him a brand-new, very trendy wardrobe. As a result, he is given more attention and respect in the courtroom. Despite being a somewhat small aspect of the plot, it introduces a very important idea, that Elle’s experiences as an undergraduate fashion major are worth sharing and learning from as opposed to only seeing her time in law school as valuable.

This serves to create a message that goes beyond promoting mere tolerance of different ideas and perspectives. It encourages fully embracing new ideas and seeking out the merit in diversity so that the entire community can benefit from it. Overall, Legally Blonde delivers an important message to students of campus about Greek life, feminism, and recognizing one’s full potential that is especially meaningful now. However this is executed in true VOB fashion, with excellent choreography, witty dialogue, and some quality twerking on stage.

 

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3 Comments on “Legally Blonde: Charming and Insightful”

Legally Blonde, as produced by Vanderbilt Off-Broadway (VOB) certainly carried with it a strong underlying theme of feminism. In addition, throughout the musical the “Greek chorus” provided humorous and relevant glimpses of Greek life that many students in the audience could probably relate to. Indeed, VOB managed to modernize their performance to reflect a more modern retelling of the classic story. In part, this retelling paints a slightly more realistic view of feminism than the original, idealistic movie. While the musical certainly requires some suspension of disbelief—sure, the Harvard Law admissions officers can be so easily swayed by tiny shorts and charming theatrics?—it also provides a deeper, more credible message as well. Specifically, Elle (Megan Ward) giving Emmett (Taylor Gutierrez) a makeover so that he is taken more seriously could be interpreted to show that appearances are still an important part of life. While a theme of feminism is seen in Elle garnering acceptance from her peers, her change into a modest navy suit shows the limitations of this idea. Furthermore, throughout Elle’s time at Harvard, she makes sly comments regarding the drab appearance of Vivienne (Samantha Mae). This female vs. female insulting puts a damper on the otherwise strong message of feminism. However, it assists the musical in portraying a convincing idea of modern feminism—while we are moving towards a world in which the blonde sorority girl clad in pink can be taken seriously, we are still at a point where appearances do matter.

Darshi Edirisooriya on February 17th, 2016 at 2:15 pm

I was fortunate enough to watch Vanderbilt Off-Broadway’s (VOB) production of Legally Blonde on January 21 before Nashville was hit by a snowstorm. Apart from producing one of the most exciting productions of Legally Blonde I have ever seen, VOB successfully engaged the audience with themes relevant in today’s society such as feminism, Greek life and stereotyping. The exploration of the protagonist, Elle Woods, who was portrayed brilliantly by Megan Ward, brings about numerous questions about how we as an audience tend to unknowingly place people into societally predetermined stereotypes. For example, Warner Huntington III (Jimmy Brunner) ends his relationship with Elle because he feels that someone majoring in fashion could never be serious enough for his political career. This propagates the stereotype that fashion isn’t a respectable business, and those involved in it cannot be taken seriously. VOB’s production also provided a hilarious experience for its audience through Elle’s Delta Nu sorority sisters. First introduced in “Omigod You Guys” in her jubilation in expecting a marriage proposal, the presence of this makeshift ‘Greek chorus’ throughout the rising and falling action of the plot provides the audience with a humorous view of what sisterhood can entail. Not only does it help in expressing Elle’s identity through the play, but it represents Elle’s consciousness as well. Lastly, and most importantly, there is a ubiquitous feminist message in the play. Elle, against all odds, is able to stand up against one hurdle after another. The plot sees Elle facing superficial judgment, illicit sexual advances and low expectations. The free-spirited, confident Elle is able to shatter these societal constraints in an inimitable, assured style. Often, in the effort to carry these meaningful, symbolic messages, a play loses its innate characteristics. VOB, however, made a largely successful effort in retaining the upbeat, buoyant feel of the show with its rib-tickling humor, bright choreography and brilliant vocal renditions. I went to Ingram Hall expecting an incredibly entertaining experience, and left the auditorium fully sated.

Akash Majumdar on February 22nd, 2016 at 9:02 pm

I whole-heartedly agree with the crucially valuable feminist message present throughout Legally Blonde. This show has a pressing relevance in today’s society as women increasingly step into the spotlight and speak up for their equal rights and power. Elle Woods is a unique example of a feminist. What stands out to me is that the writer uses extremities and juxtapositions to emphasize the feminist argument. At first glance, Elle Woods sports strictly pink attire and appears as ostentatious and vapid. The audience members and her peers are swift to deem her as a stereotypical “girly-girl”. It comes as an absolute shock that Elle desires to attend Harvard Law School. The incredulous nature of Elle’s sudden and shocking dream enhances the overall meaning of the script to society. The use of extremities emphasize society’s rigid and unjustified stereotypes and lead one to rethink preconceived judgements that they commonly inflict on women. Elle’s hard work and determination leads her to great success at Harvard Law. Her unanticipated power suggests that men and women are equally capable, as the audience is forced to look inside themselves and question why they made pre-judgements. In addition, the romantic relationship between Elle Woods and Warner touches on the soft subject of gender roles in relationships. At first, Warner belittles Elle and writes her off as “not serious” due to her particularly “ girly” interests. Warner represents an anti-feminist mindset that males hold the dominant role in a relationship, while girls have petty passions and are unintelligent. Elle proves Warner wrong and even surpasses his accomplishments. This conveys the idea that women are equally capable as men and society must stop belittling them in romantic relationships. I admire the way VOB ties together the messages by suggesting that girls equally intelligent, strong, and capable as men. I enjoyed Aster’s impression when Elle fixes Emmett’s appearance. With this, Elle shows the audience that women have unique and valuable talents. Overall, the performance was vibrant, thought-provoking, and extremely impressive. The dance choreography and range of vocals struck me most and enlivened the show from start to finish. The dancing added an energy that helped convey the overall message of gender equality, as there were men and women dancing side by side. I felt proud to call the cast my peers. I gained insights that hard work, rather than simply a Y chromosome, leads to success and power.

Alexa Ebner on February 25th, 2016 at 2:09 pm

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