Review: Legally Blonde: The Musical (Hart House)

Picture of Emma Sangalli and ensemble in Legally Blonde: The Musical

Legally Blonde: The Musical is a delight

With sparkling pink enthusiasm, Legally Blonde: The Musical brings all the feminism and glitter of the original film and novel to the stage for Hart House Theatre’s 100th anniversary season. A wonderful homage to the original, this production addresses issues of sexual harassment, academic exclusivity, and touches (very, very lightly) on class differences.

The choreography by Gregory Carruthers is impeccable. The dance scenes are very engaging and make excellent use of the impressively creative set design by Holly Meyer-Dymny. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage, even to take notes for my review. Director Saccha Dennis pulls everything together wonderfully.

The choreographed scenes of Brooke Wydnham’s exercise tapes, played by Amy Holden, are particularly impressive. Holden takes on the character of Brook Wyndham with aplomb, especially when singing and skipping rope simultaneously.

The production has the feeling of a high-budget affair, in no small part because of Holly Meyer-Dymny’s set design and Kathleen Black’s flawless costumes. Warner Huntington III, played by John Carr Cook, looks especially detestable as he breaks up with Elle in a wonderfully waspy outfit, down to his arrogant haircut of a wig. Cook plays his part beautifully; the audience immediately loves to hate him.

The music and lyrics, written for the stage in 2007 by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, perfectly capture the tone of the original. At times, my guest and I had trouble picking out some of the chorus’s words, but their energy carried the songs forward regardless.

My guest loved the music but felt that the roles of the Black male party-goer and the very butch lesbian are more stereotype than representation. While I agree that these roles are cliché, I feel that in a production where every character leans into their stereotype – the peppy blonde, the lecherous professor, the spacey aesthetician – it isn’t problematic.

Legally Blonde is a story that debunks stereotypes as it simultaneously plays into them. Elle is the most typical pink-loving, Chihuahua-carrying, blonde sorority girl. Except she isn’t. Elle is all those things as she breaks the expectations of what being that person means.

As Elle is learning to be herself and break free from the preconceived notions of what a blonde sorority girl is, Vivienne Kensington (Autumn-Joy Dames), is the classic archetype of an ambitious woman – and therefore unfeminine. Unlikeable, in part, because of her intelligence and drive.

Elle pushes back against her typecast role. Not by putting on a black suit, but by being her sparking pink self and being an excellent lawyer anyway.

Vivienne does this as well. She doesn’t get a makeover, and she doesn’t become less driven. Instead, she breaks up with Warner and learns to discard stereotypes and work in solidarity with her female peers.

Stereotypes within academia, particularly as they relate to feminism, are also brought to light. The production plays this up with academic jokes like, “who’s calling Gloria Steinem a skank?!” that gets big laughs from a very animated audience.

I think it’s excellent that Hart House Theatre, part of the University of Toronto, chose to house a play that addresses issues of academic exclusivity. It’s often rare to find a production that deals with all these issues thoughtfully and with longstanding relevance, while also being such a crowd-pleaser.

Emma Sangalli sails through the production as the glittering Elle Woods, winning the hearts of her peers and the audience. Bruiser (played by a real dog!) is a delight, and the Bend and Snap (the scene I was most looking forward to) does not disappoint.

Legally Blonde: The Musical is such a beloved story that the very keen audience hoots, laughs, and claps throughout the 2 hours and 30 minutes (including intermission). At intermission, the atmosphere is buzzing with happy Elle Woods fans, and the finale is met with uproarious applause.

I absolutely love this production. Everyone involved obviously poured all their heart and effort into making this show fantastic. Legally Blonde fans will not be disappointed, and for those who haven’t seen it, this is a perfect time.

Details

  • Legally Blonde: The Musical is playing until February 1, 2020 at Hart House Theatre
  • Shows run Wednesday to Saturday 8pm, with an additional matinee on Saturday February 1 at 2pm
  • Ticket prices range from $15- $28
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-978-2452, or in person at Hart House HUB Main Information Desk, or the theatre’s ticket window prior to curtain
  • This production uses fog and haze machines and strobe lighting effects

Photo of Emma Sangalli and ensemble by Scott Gorman