Legally Blonde: The Musical at Hart House Theatre: REVIEW

Emma Sangalli as Elle Woods with The Company in Legally Blonde: The Musical at Hart House Theatre, photo Scott Gorman
Emma Sangalli as Elle Woods with The Company, photo Scott Gorman

We’re starting this year’s theatre visits off with a kick with Legally Blonde: The Musical at Hart House Theatre! Torontonicity was invited to the opening night on Friday, January 17, 2020 of this super fun production directed by Saccha Dennis, with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin based on the book by Amanda Brown.

If you’ve only ever seen Legally Blonde the movie, but remember having a fun time watching the bubble-gum pink protagonist Elle Woods navigate life outside SoCal, then you will absolutely enjoy this production. The same wit and charm have been applied to the musical numbers that see Elle take on the challenges of law school, sexism and stereotyping in the original material source.

Emma Sangalli as Elle Woods with The Company in Legally Blonde: The Musical at Hart House Theatre, photo Scott Gorman
Emma Sangalli as Elle Woods with The Company, photo Scott Gorman

It can be quite challenging as an actor to take on any memorable role as a comparison is bound to happen, but Moulan Bourke did an incredible job as Paulette – originally played by Jennifer Coolidge in the 2001 film. Bourke brings a similar tone to the character but adds a distinct quirkiness to the role, and an impressive vocal range that left us blown away after her main musical number! Fantastic job!

Another notable performance is the role of Brooke Wyndham, the fitness mogul on trial for murdering her husband, played by Amy Holden. Huge praise goes out to Holden who had incredible comedic timing, and never once fumbled out of character, maintaining this perfectly poised persona throughout. Not to mention that her singing while skipping was very impressive – in both the original workout video routine, as well as the prison gym-yard scene!

It must be said that the entire ensemble brought it 100%! There was only a moment of sound problems at the beginning, but that’s expected on opening night when cast and crew are getting their nerves or jitters out of the way. After that initial song and dance routine, the rest of the evening had the crowd cheering after every single number! The energy vocally and in the dance routines was impressive. Major kudos to Stage Manager Dustyn Wales and Choreographer Gregory Carruthers for making every movement flow easily.

Set and stage design were no easy feat for Legally Blonde: The Musical, as the entire story changes setting quite often: Elle’s hometown, Harvard/Boston, dorm room, courtroom, and a hair salon! Set Designer Holly Meyer-Dymny, who previously worked on The Penelopiad at Hart House, created a dual staircase foyer background with a main doorway that allowed for characters to enter at centre, and various accompanying tall units that opened to transform the space. These units (approximately 7-8 feet in height) were painted in the typical pink and pastel tones of Elle’s world on the exterior and were danced around by characters during musical numbers to transition between scenes.

The costumes were also a delight with loads of 90s pop-inspired style. Anyone who enjoyed the 1990s high school trends (think Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Craft or Cruel Intentions) will find a nostalgic appreciation for wardrobe in Legally Blonde: The Musical. Costume Designer Kathleen Black did a fantastic job creating identifiable looks for each character and the role they played within Elle’s life. There’s a surprising wardrobe change in the first act that left the audience applauding wildly as well – it was such a fun moment!

The audience made their love of the performance known when lead actor Emma Sangalli, who played Elle Woods, came out on stage at the end. A standing ovation was well deserved by her, as she fearlessly took on the hilarious physicality of Elle (demonstrated in the “Bend and Snap” scene) but also brought an endearing quality to her. Sangalli’s vocal ability is well worth attending this production for, as she belts out great notes at various occasions making it look easy! Fantastic job from this actor!

I think Legally Blonde feels like it’s “of an era,” when the reality is that a lot of the conflicts in the story are based on important messaging that is still very relevant today. Our society likes to neatly categorize people, and put them into quite restrictive boxes, where little to no expectation for them to grow is held. Elle’s infectious positivity, determination (though misguided at the beginning) and loyalty to her sisters make her the type of character that inspires audiences to be kinder after leaving the theatre. That reason, along with the very catchy musical numbers, make Legally Blonde: The Musical well worth seeing. Tickets are available until Saturday February 1, 2020, so don’t wait and get there to support your local theatre!

Legally Blonde: The Musical at Hart House Theatre runs until February 1, 2020. Tickets are Adults $28, Seniors $20 and Students $15. On Wednesdays, student admission is $12. Book online and pick up tickets at the Hart House Theatre Box Office before the show.

You might be interested in reading my review of Portia’s Julius Caesar at Hart House Theatre.