Whitman Drama gets “Serious” with production of winter musical “Legally Blonde”


Photo courtesy Whitman Drama

The Whitman Drama winter musical, “Legally Blonde,” follows Elle Woods’ transformation from a UCLA sorority girl to a lawyer, as she goes to extreme lengths to get back with Warner after he dumps her to study at Harvard Law School.

By Sydney Merlo

A gaggle of brightly-dressed sorority girls rushes onto the stage, exclaiming “Omigod” as they await the emergence of lead Elle Woods, played by junior Maddie Belanoff. The Delta Nus gush over Elle’s dress as she prepares for her date that night with her boyfriend Warner Huntington III, played by junior William Young. Warner reminisces about their fondest shared memories, and Elle anticipates a marriage proposal. Instead of getting on one knee, he makes a startling proclamation.

“We should break up!”

The Whitman Drama winter musical, “Legally Blonde,” follows Elle Woods’ transformation from a UCLA sorority girl to a lawyer, as she goes to extreme lengths to get back with Warner after he dumps her to study at Harvard Law School. She charms her way into the prestigious institution, but faces the stereotypical hardships of being a blonde who “has it all.” At Harvard, she grasps her full potential in the law field as she becomes a prominent female leader on a competitive team of interns.

Amidst a tense social and political climate in 2023, Whitman Drama Director Tyler Herman searched tirelessly to select the program’s winter musical, determined to discover a production that would attract interest while also conveying a powerful message, he said. 

“I picked this musical after the rolling back of Roe v. Wade, and I was thinking about how to showcase women standing up for themselves and women succeeding on their own terms,” Herman said. “This story of Elle Woods standing up for herself — despite what everybody else has to say about her — is the story of how we have to stand up to hate and discrimination.”

“Legally Blonde” emphasizes the importance of discovering personal passions and believing in yourself when no one else does.

Belanoff has enjoyed the opportunity to expand her artistry and theatrical talents, she said. She noted that she was able to supply an abundance of Elle’s pink clothing from her wardrobe. Elle was the only character to don the color pink throughout the show, a deliberate choice by the costume team to ensure that her signature color stood out.

  “Every time [Elle is] faced with a challenge, she tackles it with grace and beautiful fashion,” Belanoff said. “That’s just been really fun to explore and embody in these few weeks.”

With a cast of 27, the Costumes team had a heavy workload ahead of them. They shifted the main focus of aesthetics toward color palettes, said Costumes Designer Gabriela Murray, a senior. They aimed to achieve full separation between the contrasting worlds of upscale Malibu and uptight Harvard Law.

Since mid-December, actors, tech crew, directors, choreographers, pit orchestra, Drumline, Cheer and one — real — dog have been working to bring the show to the auditorium stage. Belanoff is enthusiastic about the inclusion of other Whitman sectors, she said. Belanoff believes that the all-inclusive performance group will be exceptionally impactful.

“I’m really excited that we have cheer and drumline,” Belanoff said. “Not only are there a bunch of different people who are a part of this musical in terms of tech, pit and actors, but now we have a whole other branch of the school. It’s really special.”

This show is also distinctive in its numerous flashy dance numbers. To take the musical’s choreography to the next level, Herman recruited Professional Choreographer Pauline Lamb to work with students and “whip them into shape.” 

“She’s been driving them hard and showing them that they can do more than they thought they were capable of,” Herman said. “It’s been really cool to see the actors come to life in a new way.”

Unlike most set pieces in past Whitman productions, all units the audience sees on stage are mounted on wheels, said Assistant Scenic Designer Caroline Melmed, a junior.

Various challenges arose for the technical team, as they had difficulty with the wheels on module units repeatedly breaking while trying to perfect the visual characteristics of the production.

“‘Legally Blonde,’ as a musical, has a lot more content than the movie, and there’s lots of different places we go — lots of different scenes,” said Technical Supervisor Alex Evans, who works as the Media Service Technician during the school day.

During “hell week,” a two-week preparation period before opening night, the technical team members finalized lighting, sound, set and costume transitions to ensure a seamless live performance. With the incorporation of a live orchestra, the sound engineers had to enable both singers and instrumental musicians to hear each other clearly to create a cohesive sound. Technical Director Micah Janger, a senior, noted that the tech team had unique experiences each day of rehearsal because there was always something more to accomplish: it’s always a work in progress, he said.

After nearly two months of fine-tuning each creative detail, like the sets for the law classroom and Paulette’s hair salon, the Whitman Drama production of “Legally Blonde” became ready for the stage. 

While the tech crew’s responsibilities are expansive, the basics include ensuring that all platforms are safe to walk on, sanding rough edges and moving the set pieces that are on wheels. However, the satisfaction of each of the show’s components finally coming together makes it all worth it, said Assistant Technical Director Skai Glasser, a junior.

“It’s really satisfying on opening night when the show starts and everything just works out how it’s supposed to,” Glasser said. “That’s the best moment every year.”