This year, the audience filed into the auditorium whispering about how this year’s musical will stack up with ones of the past, considering the young cast and new drama director David Klein.
The pressure was on for cast and crew the week leading up to “Legally Blonde,” and they spent long nights holed up on stage perfecting everything from sets to quick changes in time for opening weekend, March 11-13.
Klein said the musical came together opening night. “The audience is that missing ingredient,” he said. “Once you get them, that makes all the difference in the world because they’re contributing their energy to [the performance].”
Many audience members already knew the story of “Legally Blonde” thanks to Reese Witherspoon’s blockbuster movie, so last weekend’s performance was easy to follow.
Similar to the movie, there are some questionable scenes and a few strong words, which led to the posters having a parental advisory notice. The musical is more fitted for teen and adult audiences, but it wasn’t overtly offensive.
The actors had to carry the first act because the musical itself had a slow start. Junior Olivia Perry took the stage as Elle Woods, introduced by her sorority sisters in the first number “Omigod You Guys.” She had the perfect physique for Elle with her platinum blonde hair and the actress dominated the show.
Perry, along with juniors Kade Smith, Rollin Rockett, David Balkovetz and Caroline Poole, played the major roles in the production. Compared to previous years, the cast seemed to be more involved in the choral department rather than theater, with this being Smith’s first production and many students with first-time leads.
Overall the cast’s presence filled the stage whether through dynamic relationships or powerful solos. Emmett and Elle’s romantic relationship was conveyed believably through Smith and Perry’s comfortable acting and smooth harmonies.
Rockett proved to be a flawless Callahan with his sturdy presence and booming voice, and his featured performance of “Blood in the Water” was practically chilling. Vivian, played by Poole, defined Harvard’s sharp lines with her straight black wig, pantsuits, and harsh personality.
The second act definitely picked up with the first song “Whipped into Shape,” featuring senior Hollyn Shadinger as Brooke Wyndham, who managed to jump rope and sing without sounding out of breath. One of the dancers accidently threw her jump rope Friday night, but she continued by miming jump roping without throwing off the number. Sunday, Shadinger’s jump rope tangled with another dancer’s, but these mistakes just stem from the difficult choreography of the number.
The rest of the songs also felt more upbeat and fun, specifically the infamous “Bend and Snap” scene in the hair salon.
The audience responded best to the hair salon scenes, featuring senior Alexa Echevarria as Paulette and senior McKay Mayfield as Kyle. Mayfield had perfect comedic timing with his scenes, and Echevarria kept Paulette’s sassy tone through her dialogue and songs.
And, of course, when Buford the English bulldog took the stage as Paulette’s Rufus, the audience loved it.
Klein also chose to showcase individual talents from the Mill, with senior Maddie Beatty playing violin in the background of a dinner scene and senior Hannah Aldinger twirling her baton during a dance number.
“Legally Blonde” has constant set changes and different characters, and Klein said he used this tone to keep the musical engaging.
“My signature style is that you never let the play stop,” Klein said. “There’s always action. I call it keeping the play ‘hot.’” Klein purposefully chose a minimalist set for the musical because he didn’t want the crew to be seen on stage or any blackouts.
This strategy meant the actors had to roll props on and off stage during scene changes, so Klein didn’t want the set to be too elaborate. “I threw a lot at the actors,” he said. “They had to be the people that moved the set as well as do the performing and coping with their life backstage.”
Even though this was a stylistic choice, it was a little jarring because it was such a drastic change from the drama department’s usual above-and-beyond sets and costumes. Klein used colored lighting and spotlights to convey tone and scene changes along with small rolling props that were adaptable to different scenes.
“I had to conceive a set that worked that way and go, ‘Okay, what’s the minimal we can have for the show?’” Klein said.
Despite this minimalistic decision, prop mishaps still occurred during two showings. “The biggest problem was these two columns we had for Harvard, and we had a big Harvard sign that flies in and sits on top of them,” Klein said. “They have to be in just the right position, and I wanted it to look very symmetrical because we’re in Harvard, this very ordered world.”
The columns were rolled on stage with one sitting in the middle of the sign, throwing off the symmetry and causing the sign to be crooked. “In some ways, that’s what makes it interesting,” Klein said. “Things are never quite the same and something is always going to happen, so we have to figure out how to make it work.”
Klein said Perry’s biggest problem was quick changing and appearing on stage at the right time during rehearsals, but she didn’t slip up once over the weekend.
And the costumes definitely did not disappoint, with Elle constantly popping up on stage in everything from a rigid business suit to a sequinned Playboy bunny costume.
“Legally Blonde” had a different feel from other SMHS productions, with minimal sets and a fairly new cast, but the show kept audiences engaged with constant movement and exciting songs.