Scotch’n’Soda Presents: Legally Blonde
At 11 p.m. on Friday the hall outside Rangos was buzzing with funnel-cake-fueled excitement as we waited for the doors to open on Scotch’n’Soda’s annual Carnival show. S’n’S went with a crowd pleaser, Legally Blonde, for this year’s show, and tickets were evaporating fast. By the time the eager crowd spilled into Rangos, already singing the opening theme, every seat was sold. They would be full every night of the show, and deservingly so.
Legally Blonde traces the story of Elle Woods, a brilliant, ditzy, and resilient sorority girl from Malibu, played by sophomore electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering double major Tara Stentz, as she works her way to the top of the class at Harvard law school. What starts off as a harebrained scheme to get her boyfriend back after he dumps her for not being “serious” enough, quickly morphs into a tale of defying stereotypes, self discovery, and learning how to stand on your own. It’s a story that’s always funny and, when done well, surprisingly emotional.
From the moment the curtain went up it was clear the rowdy crowd had met its match. Legally Blonde is a larger than life, all or nothing story, and this cast definitely went all in. The show starts in Elle’s University of California, Los Angeles sorority, where the sisters of Delta Nu are preparing to congratulate her on what they assume is her upcoming engagement. Elle’s best friends Margot, Serena, and Pilar, played by Dietrich first-years AnnaJamieson Beck and Heather Graci, and mechanical engineering and engineering and public policy first-year Elizabeth Elrod respectively, lead the opening ensemble number, “Omigod You Guys.” It’s hard to describe the sheer squeaky force of this song. Beck, Graci, and Elrod flung themselves into the rolls of extreme sorority girls, bouncing and squealing with so much energy it was almost terrifying. We bounced along with them, caught up in the frenzy.
The energy didn't stop after the opener. Each new character and singing number piled more life and laughs into the show. Legally Blonde is a careful balancing act. With a ridiculous storyline and larger than life characters, the musical totters at the edge of the audience’s suspension of disbelief. It’s the honest emotion of the cast that brings it back from the precipice. Sure, Elle might have a talking dog and win court cases using her extensive knowledge of hair care, but her pain and self doubt are gut-wrenchingly real just the same.
This show got some very lucky breaks in terms of casting. Stentz was one of them. When she started singing, I’m pretty sure every jaw in the room dropped. Small, adorable, and, most importantly, blonde, she’s a perfect match for Elle. Don’t think for a second that’s why she got the role, though. First-year vocal performance major Marina Byrne, who played Elle’s rival and eventual friend Vivienne, and junior vocal performance major Grace Lazos, who took the stage as the sweet and timid, yet hilarious hairdresser Paulette, were also uncannily suited for their roles. Stentz and Byrne both raised chills with their soaring renditions of the final number, “Legally Blonde,” while Lazos broke hearts as she belted out “Bend and Snap.”
More instrumentally inclined folks were not disappointed either. First-year vocal performance major Caleb Glickman took command of the pit and whipped them into shape. Legally Blonde has a relatively large pit, which presents all kind of difficulties, both logistically and musically. Glickman made it all look seamless come show time, transitioning in and out of his cameo as a JetBlue pilot with an effortless flag twirl.
Though, what was really special about this show was not the musical talent, it was the people. As you may have noticed by now, there was an unusually high number of first-years in the show. Director Adam Lerner, a first-year himself, explained the situation, “So many of us were in our roles for the first time. I had never directed before and some of the actors had never been on stage before. We found ourselves all feeling like underdogs. During our first production meeting, we had 17 people in the room and after a quick count we found that more than 60 percent of us were freshmen.”
The real-life struggles and victories of this underdog cast seeped through into the show. From the start, Lerner and Glickman saw Legally Blonde as the show of the underdog. Back when the show was still just a wee little proposal before the S’n’S Board of Directors, Lerner laid out his vision, saying “Elle’s fish out of water appearance in comparison to her Harvard peers pits her as an underdog. Elle tries to stay true to herself, never failing to be a ray of sunshine. The finale song is introduced with the line ‘being true to yourself never goes out of style.’ This is [the] final message that I want the audience to walk out with: Even an underdog can succeed, but you can’t lose yourself in the journey.” He couldn’t have known the kind of cast he would have, but it’s spooky how well it aligned.
The show was not flawless. There were missed pitches and tech glitches a-plenty. That’s what you get with amateur theater, and it’s hardly the point. The point is to make the audience buy into the experience you want them to have. And I can attest that we bought in. We jeered when Elle’s boyfriend broke up with her, screamed in disgust when her boss hit on her, and hooted and hollered like proud parents at her valedictorian speech.
Lerner and his pack of underdogs pulled off a show with one of the largest casts in S’n’S history, sold out all of the evening shows, and had some of the best attended matinées in recent history, earning the production the nickname “the show of dreams” from the Board of Directors. Lerner summed up the experience, saying, “The final show was beyond our wildest dreams ... So many aspects of the show that were expected to fail came together and made the show what it was.” The S’n’S team set out to bring us the story of an underdog defying all odds and excelling beyond anyone’s dreams. They accidentally brought us two.