At Vassar, where people compete over who has slept the least and daily schedules are filled past capacity, students often forget how important it can be to have pure, unadulterated fun. In turn, the theater climate often reflects students’ serious attitudes towards their studies.
When Director Doug Greer ’14 proposed a production of Legally Blonde to Future Waitstaff of America (FWA) last December, he decided he wanted to change the tone. “At Vassar, we do a lot of drama with funny moments rather than comedy with dramatic moments, so I wanted to do a musical that was solely about fun,” he said.
He continued, “I wanted to bring something different to Vassar theater, and it’s my favorite musical.”
Legally Blonde, a musical with the book written by Heather Hach and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, is based on the 2001 film directed by Robert Luketic.
It opened on Broadway in 2007 to good reviews and seven Tony nominations. It moved to the West End in 2009 and has since been performed across the world, in locations including Australia, The Netherlands, France, and South Korea among many others.
It opens at Vassar on May 2 at 8 p.m. in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater, and runs through the weekend, on Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
The show stars Jessie Lanza ’15 as Elle Woods, a sorority girl-turned-law student, who attends Harvard Law School for the sole purpose of winning back her ex-boyfriend, Warner, played by Jordan Burns ’16, who breaks up with her to pursue his former girlfriend, someone he considers more serious than Elle.
Though she initially does not have ambitions to be more than Warner’s wife, Elle soon discovers that life holds more in store for her and begins to thrive in her new surroundings. As an intern for her professor, Elle ends up being instrumental in a case and eventually outshines Warner in the eyes of the jury and her fellow students.
Greer has infused fun into every aspect of this show, from the rehearsal process to the final product. “His main vision and goal for this show is to have fun,” said Lanza. She continued, “I can’t even begin to count how many times he has said that.”
The show itself is heavy on big dance numbers, having a large ensemble, and high-energy movement, which Greer notes is one of the largest draws of the production. “All the choreography is meant to be the really fun part, and [choreographer] Meghann King ’13 does wonders,” he said.
Despite his insistence that the show is just about fun, Legally Blonde offers plenty of serious themes. “One of the recurring motifs in the show is about the assumptions and mistakes that occur when judging a book by its cover,” said Jeremy Busch ’14, who plays Emmett, an attorney at Harvard who believes in Elle from the beginning.
As the play progresses, Elle begins to realize that she does not have to limit herself to the standards projected by her outside environment; she finds a sense of agency and motivation that ultimately leads her to success in various areas.
Greer argues that this show contributes a positive feminist message that will resonate with Vassar students. Despite initially presenting a character who fits a mold contrary to what might be considered an empowered female, Elle’s growth and self-discovery ultimately provide this show with socially conscious overtones.
“It is a girl power show about her discovering herself and reaching into herself, and that’s why it’s feminist,” said Greer.
For Lanza, playing Elle has given her an opportunity to examine the progress and discovery one can make when put in unfamiliar surroundings.
“The show isn’t an arch of Elle going from dumb to smart, it’s about her realizing that she can be herself, that she doesn’t need a man to make her complete, that she can be taken seriously, and can achieve so much more than she ever thought she wanted in the first scene,” said Lanza.
Still, no matter what one can learn from Legally Blonde, it is not a show that is meant to be very heavy. It will be performed on the weekend surrounding Founder’s Day, a day where Vassar students run amok before the stress of finals takes over, and it should be watched in the same spirit.
As Busch explains, “Vassar students are stressed and anxious around this time of year. This show is the perfect study break. The audience and Vassar community is in serious need of something enjoyable, and that’s what we intend on delivering.”