Much like the story of Elle Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon in 2007’s film Legally Blonde, theatre students found themselves professionally, and personally growing through one of the most intensive theatre experiences around.
And although StoryBook Theatre is no Harvard Law, the setting for Legally Blonde, the students re-created the hit film turned Broadway show for this year’s Season of Inspiration. It is StoryBook Theatre’s 46th season.
The students, aged 13 through 20, began the summer with theatre, dance, and music workshops. The goal of StoryBook Theatre’s artistic team was to direct them towards eventually auditioning for the show—although everyone in the program has a part to play regardless.
“Legally Blonde is all part of that. They will work on the show, create the show, and while they’re doing the show five days a week, they also have their technique training and their jury prep to be working on,” said JP Thibodeau, StoryBook Theatre’s artistic producer.
“So it’s an intensive summer for the students.”
The performances begin on August 19 and run until September 10. Tickets are available online, and performances take place at the Beddington Theatre Arts Centre.
Elle Woods role is being co-played by Alexa Andrews and Ella Challoner. Cameron Gilmour will be playing Elle’s narcissistic ex-boyfriend Warner Huntington III. And Aaaronsaul Negre will be playing Elle’s love interest, Emmett Forrest.
Meeting real celebrities as part of the StoryBook program
Part of the StoryBook Theatre program jury prep involves the students eventually going before a panel of theatre professionals to get feedback on their performances, and to ask questions about the industry.
Thibodeau said that he has been bringing in notable Canadian and American theatre professionals, often celebrities, because of the opportunity it presents to the students.
“I realized that that’s the disconnect for kids, that they don’t realize they’re also people who went through the same struggles they did,” he said.
A highlight for this year was getting to work with Laura Bell Bundy, who played Elle in the original Broadway run of Legally Blonde.
“Half the kids couldn’t believe that she was in the same room with them, watching them, and some of the kids were going, ‘she’s my idol, she’s my hero,'” said Thibodeau.
“Now it’s a real person. It just makes that person, that dream, much more real when the real person is out in the same room as them.
“And whether she’s your idol or not, she’s someone who’s done what you’re dreaming of doing, and you get to have that one on one connection with them and realize that she’s just a human being like you.”
Thibodeau said the experiences help to inspire the students to believe in themselves, even though it can be incredibly hard to reach the highest levels of the performance world.
“There’s the reality for us all who grow up and know that one out of every 10 million people will make it, or something like that,” he said.
“The odds are crazy, but to inspire them to believe in themselves that much more by just having that celebrity connection is what’s so valuable about it, whether they’re a Broadway celebrity or a Canadian celebrity.”
Picking the right play important for students
Thibodeau said that one of his pet peeves as a producer is seeing children perform as adults in plays, which makes for an uneven performance playing field.
“So picking a show like Footloose—great show, lots of teenage roles in it, but half the cast is adults, half the cast is students—half the kids in the program would have to play adults, which I don’t think would be fun,” he said.
“It’s always finding a show that allows them to all be on the same playing field, and so they’re all working towards the same thing.”
He said that for this year, Legally Blonde checked all the right boxes.
“It’s got strong music, it’s well written, it’s well conceived, and then allows the whole cast to play on the same level as being college students, even though we have the one professor in the show, who in our show will be a student,” said Thibodeau.
“But they’re very excited to play the to play that role, and I think it works out well.”
Thibodeau also said that it was a show that allowed for a large cast with many different singing parts, as opposed to other shows with large casts and just a handful of singers.
Production to offer new experience for audience
The students asked Bundy what she would change about Legally Blonde, said Thibodeau.
“If she were to do the show today, what would she change, and she had mentioned a couple of things, more representation in the show, maybe non binary characters in the show,” he said.
“We just shifted the attitude of the show, and what what I love about our program is the kids—the students are always teaching us.”
One of those changes is having a non-binary student play one of the Delta Nu sorority characters.
Thibodeau said the passion that the students have for the show will translate well for the audience.
And as for that audience, he said that StoryBook Theatre was ready to welcome them back no matter their pandemic comfort level.
“I’m a firm believer that you create what your audience wants, and I think we’ve programmed a season that really appeals to everyone of all different ages, all different demographics. And I think we are opening the doors with the right shows to say, ‘hey, Calgary, we’re back, theatre’s back,” said Thibodeau.
“I’m quite confident even already in our current sales for subscribers—the tickets are selling well—that people are ready to come back to theatre, and are ready to come back and be part of the StoryBook community.”