Sydney is the host city for the Australian premiere of Legally Blonde: The Musical, and this time last week, a couple of friends and I came together from two other cities (Melbourne and Perth) to check out the latest import from Broadway.
I first became familiar with the musical version of the ditzy blonde from Bel Air with a heart of gold who makes good at Harvard a few years ago when I watched The Search for Elle Woods on MTV. I’m all over the pop-feminism of the Reese Witherspoon version (in fact, my friends and I gathered around my laptop the night before the stage show to watch the original as our hotel didn’t have a DVD player and the only thing I could fault about it eleven years on is the use of “spastic” and “retard”), and I’ve come to love musicals since seeing Wicked which I use as the benchmark for all theatre, so it was a no-brainer to make the jaunt to Sydney to see the Aussie version, starring Lucy Durack as Elle.
Let me start by saying the highlight of the night was the fact that we actually got to meet Durack, Rob Mills, who plays Warner, Cameron Daddo (Professor Callahan) and I Will Survive winner, Mike Snell as the UPS guy, after the show. Maybe because the theatre was only half full they encourage ticket holders to come to the stage door after the performance to meet the cast, but if you’re a fan of any of the above, you should pop along just for that little extra (or hang out in the back streets of the Lyric Theatre!).
I also thought the elaboration of Elle’s outing at a party dressed as a Playboy bunny was a genius addition to the play, but I might be a little biased: when a fellow party-goer tells Elle she looks like a skank in her costume, she comes up with the defence that she is actually dressed as Gloria Steinem when she went undercover at the Playboy club in 1963 and subsequently wrote the feminist manifesto “I Was a Playboy Bunny”, asking, “Would you call Gloria Steinem a skank?!” Token feminist/(ergo) lesbian Enid blurts out, “Who called Gloria Steinem a skank?!” We cheered and whistled from our third row seats and were pretty well the only ones who got the joke which was made a little more special for me personally as three days later I dressed as that exact incarnation of Gloria Steinem as a Playboy bunny for Halloween! (Photos to come.)
Perhaps watching the movie the night before the show wasn’t the best idea, as it made me appreciate the flawlessness of the former and the problematic nature of the latter, which I thought was rife with homophobia, racism and utter “what the?!” moments. Durack, Snell, Mills, Erika Heynatz as Brooke Wyndham and real live puppy dogs on stage were superb, but the clunkyness, out-of-place inclusions to the story and the abovementioned problems overshadowed the better aspects of the show.
Staying with the film, I think it’s a truly feminist piece of art because feminism isn’t really mentioned once, despite Enid’s blatant characterisation as a militant feminist, yet Elle exceeds the expectations placed on her based on her sex and sexiness. In the end you love her because she’s an awesome person, not because she’s hot, blonde, has a vagina and wears pink.
In the musical, however, feminism is almost shoved down the audience’s throat, but from an outsider’s perspective, as if the writers said, “Shit, we need to make this a bit more feministy. Quick, what do we think feminists value?” Whereas in the Witherspoon version, Elle truly does make it at Harvard on her own, on stage Emmett’s character features more heavily and he pretty much guides her through her trials and tribulations which Elle takes credit for solving all on her own. Not to worry, though: to really push the feminist point home, Elle proposed to Emmett because, you know, only feminists do those kind of newfangled pro-equality kinds of things.
If the dismal turn out in the session I bought tickets for is any indication, I don’t think Legally Blonde will continue its run to other Australian cities. Unless you live in Sydney, I wouldn’t recommend making the trip to see it.
*Blanket spoiler alert.
Official image via Time Out Sydney.