Legally Blonde: The Musical will be opening at Hart House Theatre in Toronto on January 17. The musical, which made its Broadway debut in the United States in 2007, is based on the hit movie of the same name and follows sassy Elle Woods as she finds her self-worth in law school at Harvard University.
The Medium spoke with Emma Sangalli, who plays Elle Woods, to discuss the casting process, musical numbers, and gender stereotypes ahead of the show’s opening this week.
The Medium: For those who haven’t been exposed to the cultural phenomenon that is Legally Blonde, can you describe what the play is about?
Emma Sangalli: Legally Blonde tells the story of Elle Woods, a Malibu-born sorority girl, who gets dumped by her would-be-fiancé and decides to win him back by following him into law school at Harvard.
In attempting to win her fiancé back, Elle abandons her beach-house life and is faced with numerous obstacles during her time at Harvard, including sexism and harassment. She manages to overcome those obstacles by staying true to herself and eventually becomes an incredible lawyer.
It’s a really upbeat and empowering story that encourages people to stay true to themselves and go after their dreams despite labels and stereotypes.
TM: How does the musical differ from the movie?
ES: It’s much more fun—singing, dancing, through-the-roof-energy!
TM: What was the casting process like?
ES: From my understanding, this was one of the most auditioned for shows in Hart House’s history, which makes me all the more grateful to be a part of it—and to play this dream role of Elle Woods.
For the casting process, I sang a few songs and did a monologue during my initial audition, then I was called back to dance. On the third callback, I went in to perform material for the show’s directing team and was paired up with a few other potential cast members to read scenes and test for chemistry. I got a call from our wonderful director, Saccha Dennis, a week later who offered me the role of Elle. As an actor, you often dream of getting the call, so it was pretty exciting!
TM: How difficult is it to incorporate songs and dance numbers without the overall story getting lost in translation?
ES: The song and dance numbers serve the story in any good musical—they exist as a greater expression of what a character is going through or feeling.
As an actor, it can definitely become challenging, trying to remember hundreds of dance moves and lyrics while performing them simultaneously. A lot of stamina has to be built up in order to perform the musical numbers, but I also have to focus on the character and her experiences in those moments and sharing them with the audience. Marrying those elements together is the goal of every musical theatre actor and it is what brings musical theatre to life.
TM: Elle Woods is such an iconic character. How is she different in this musical compared to the movie?
ES: I think she’s a little more assertive and determined in the musical, but she remains the same at her core. All the iconic moments are still there, but her character is just an enhancement of what you see in the movie. Elle Woods is still very much Elle Woods.
TM: There are a lot of gender issues in the show, why is it important to address the stereotypes?
ES: It’s important to talk about these things so that we can continue to make our world a safer place for everyone to be able to express themselves and their identities without fear.
This musical has a lot of amazing female characters. Elle, Vivienne, and Enid stand out to me as examples—they all express their femininity in different ways and are all successful and powerful in their own industries. It’s really inspiring and beautiful to see different versions of female expression represented in the show.
TM: What are your favourite musical numbers from the show?
ES: “What You Want,” which replaces the video submission to Harvard from the movie, has been one of my favourite songs for many years now and a dream come true to perform. It’s so much fun! The choreography by Gregg Carruthers in this production is outstanding that it has to be my favourite number in the show.
TM: “Bend and Snap” is such a famous line. How fun was it to turn it into a musical number?
ES: So much fun. Emmilie Macaulay (Serena), Paige Foskett (Margot), and Tama Martin (Pilar) give that song so much life. And Moulan Burke as Paulette is hysterical and powerful in her discovery that she can “bend and snap” with the best of them. It’s a very fun number to perform with everyone.
TM: Legally Blonde is a feel-good musical, but what message should audiences take away after watching it?
ES: I think the biggest lessons that I’ve learned from being in this show are the power of determination and staying true to yourself. It truly is an inspiring piece and I hope people walk away feeling determined to fully embrace themselves and to fiercely go after what they want in life.
TM: Lastly, how much pink should audiences expect to see?
ES: Like, so much pink. So much.
Legally Blonde: The Musical runs until February 1, 2020. You can get your tickets at Hart House Theatre’s website.