The University of Massachusetts Theatre Guild dazzled with its weekend performance of “Legally Blonde: the Musical,” based on the beloved 2001 novel and subsequent romantic comedy blockbuster starring Reese Witherspoon. The musical, which opened to Broadway in 2007, is beloved nationwide for its ebullient spunk and charm.
The show opened with the song “Omigod You Guys,” in which a chorus of sorority girls gleefully belted their joy for Elle Woods, the blonde, pink-strewn protagonist who expects her picture-perfect boyfriend Warner Huntington III to propose to her at dinner. Things soon go awry when, instead of proposing, Warner dumps her on his way out of Los Angeles to study at Harvard Law School.
Elle is as grief-stricken as the perpetually peppy sorority president can possibly be (her “rock bottom,” apparently, is eating fun-sized Milky Ways in a hot pink bathrobe with her hair in perfect ringlets while surrounded by all of her adoring Greek sisters). Convinced that she has to change herself for Warner’s approval and love, Elle, quite unfathomably and true to her fancy-free, achieve-the-impossible nature, applies and gets into Harvard Law School herself.
One of the biggest lessons learned from the musical is to not change one’s true self for others’ approval. Outward appearance is a different story, as seen by the clashing views of Elle and her unexpected and unusual love interest, Emmett, the unkempt, slob Harvard genius. When Elle insists on giving him a makeover, Emmett asks her whether her mother ever taught her never to judge a book by its cover. Elle cleverly responds that the dusty books stay on the shelf.
The musical easily inherited the charm from the movie that made it, like all successful chick flicks, an endearing story about the benefits and unexpected turns one’s life can take when opening one’s self up to all the possibilities of love and one’s own talents. While she seems morally and intellectually shallow on the outside, Elle is such a lovable character because she pushes her limits, believes in herself and remains positive even when her pristine dreams are shattered.
Elle is an inspiration to all to pursue ambitions, stay positive even when all else fails and to be true to oneself when everyone else questions you. The upbeat Malibu queen is outside of her comfort zone at Harvard, where she has no friends and is judged on her flamboyant outfits that make her painfully stand out in the dull classrooms and offices. She stays positive through it all, even though being left by Warner is only the first of many hardships she has to endure through the course of the musical.
Cheers rang through a packed Bowker Auditorium Nov. 5-7 as an entertained audience took in the spunky and fast-paced dance numbers, a UPS deliveryman’s hilarious swagger and sexual innuendo, clever song lyrics – such as the second act song “Gay or European?” in which the legal team racks their brains trying to decide if a witness is gay or just flamboyant during his suspicious testimony, or “Bend and Snap,” based off the iconic movie scene in a hair salon – and the development of lovable characters whose journeys teach the ever-important lesson that, while the debate is never settled on whether you should judge a book by its cover, it’s what is on the inside of a person that truly matters.
Tori Lovallo gives a stunning and hilarious performance as Brooke, the successful and peppy workout guru who Elle defends after she is convicted of first-degree murder. The character first appears in a dance number that requires an intimidating and complex dance routine with fitness-related dance moves and jump ropes. The dance number evoked boisterous applause from the audience.
Nicki McLaughlin, who played Elle, was a perfect firecracker for the roll, belting her heart out and delivering the angelic, peppy, ceaselessly energetic aura that is necessary for the ethereal character throughout the entire show.
Meanwhile, Bobby Hawes played the charming and cynical Emmett and was a perfect complement to McLaughlin’s Elle. His contradictory insight from a very different upbringing on what truly matters in life let the audience reflect on their own values and the achievable balance of inner and outer joys in life that exists between the two characters.
Amanda Urquhart, who played Vivienne, had arguably the most powerful voice in the entire show. It was the kind that did not need a microphone as she powerfully rung some of the last notes of the final number to the very back wall of the auditorium.
The show had four performances with one each night from Thursday to Saturday, as well as a Saturday matinee.
The UMass Theatre Guild is a registered student organization for thespians from UMass and the other members of the Five Colleges. Those interested in joining the group do not have to be a theater major. Auditions are held the first two weeks of each semester. The Theatre Guild also holds a once-a-semester Coffeehouse where anyone can sign up to perform music, act, dance, perform skits and more.
Sarah Gamard can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SarahGamard.