Arts theater review

Bend and clap!

MTG’s rendition of ‘Legally Blonde’: The Musical is fun, entertaining, and self-contained

8825 nathan liang   legally blonde
Warner Huntington III (Nicholas Freitas '21) sings "Serious" during his date with Elle Woods (Maia Campbell '22).
Courtesy of Julie Henion Photography

Legally Blonde

Directed by Phoebe Piercy ’20
Performed by the MIT Musical Theater Guild
Music by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin
La Sala de Puerto Rico, Student Center
Nov. 9–10, 15–17 at 8 p.m., Nov. 11 at 2 p.m.

After the original movie came out in 2001, Legally Blonde has made it to MIT in musical form. While I know many of the references, I went into this performance having never seen the original material. Thanks to the script, there is no need to know anything about the movie in order to appreciate the show.

The musical begins with Elle Woods (Maia Campbell ’22) and her Delta Nu sorority sisters excitedly preparing for Elle’s boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Nicholas Freitas ’21), to propose to her that night. However, Warner takes an emotional turn and dumps her instead in order to pursue his dream of being a politician by going to Harvard Law School. To be with him, Elle chooses to study to get into law school. This leads to a very timely scene where Elle interacts with Harvard admissions counselors and convinces them to let her not only to help with “diversity,” but also to pursue love. While one of the more unusual scenes in the play, it was one of the most enjoyable. With the context of the Harvard Admissions court case, it’s nice to imagine Elle’s innocence and eagerness permeating both her application and the show itself.

After getting into Harvard, Elle has to confront the real reason she’s there. Warner already has a new girlfriend, Vivienne Kensington (Cassidy Flalkiewicz ’22), and Elle doesn’t fit in with her hilarious caricatures of Harvard classmates. Professor Callahan (Geoff Hegg ’17) is cast perfectly and conveys the aura of a smug law professor who acts as a needed foil for Elle’s initial over-enthusiasm. After a pep talk from the amazingly well-played and -voiced hairdresser Paulette Bonafonte (Carina Masuelli ’22), and another from the endearing upperclassman Emmett Forest (MIchael Mandanas ’22), Elle works her way to the top of her class.

The four top students, which of course include Elle, Warner, and Vivienne, get to assist Callahan in defending Brooke Wyndham (Cecilia Esterman ’21) against murder accusations. Brooke gets to introduce herself as a workout instructor during the most impressive dance number of the musical, in which the dancers synchronously jump rope while singing.

As the plot thickens, the musical isn’t afraid to develop side characters further. Elle helps Paulette gain more dating confidence through the “bend and snap” maneuver, and in another scene she takes Emmett shopping to help him dress the part of an attorney. It’s moments like these that remind the audience of Elle’s inherently kind nature, and no matter how her goals keep changing through the narrative, she stays true to herself.

The musical ends with Elle outing two witnesses for perjury through her knowledge of straight men and hair, thus winning the case. While this musical is overall a happy one, the script knows to introduce story elements that contrast with this. Moments like when Warner proposes to Vivienne or when Callahan makes an unwarranted advancement on Elle remind the audience that Elle faces a lot of obstacles that can’t be overcome with a smile. In the case of the the latter example, this moment helps Vivienne see Elle as she truly is: an intelligent woman who is treated unfairly due to her looks. This change was one of the most unexpected but welcome character developments, veering from the easy trope of keeping Vivienne as the “mean girl.”

Overall, this musical provided more details and character arcs than one would expect. While there was always something to follow, the performance prioritizes being fun and enjoyable. This is hit over the head when Elle’s happy mind, personified as her “Greek Chorus,” berates various scenes with positivity. To balance Elle’s battles with sexism, the musical incorporates gleeful stereotypes to keep in theme, exemplified by the song “Gay or European.” There is a lot to appreciate in this show, but no matter what, you’ll be sure to appreciate it if you go.