By: Natalie Tursi, Gateway Regional High School
WOODBURY HEIGHTS, N.J. – Gateway Regional High School’s 2023 spring musical promises to be a vivacious, colorful production of Legally Blonde: The Musical, directed by Paul Sommers.
Sommers has directed fifteen plays and musicals between Clearview High School and Gateway Regional. This is his second spring musical with Gateway, the previous being last year’s production of Aida, and his third show overall at the high school, including the productions of Peter Pan, and the forthcoming Legally Blonde.
“This is my favorite cast that I’ve worked with,” Sommers says. “I love this show for many reasons, and I love the growth that I’ve seen from the whole group so far.”
Originally directed by Jerry Mitchell on Broadway, Legally Blonde follows Elle Woods as she makes her way through Harvard Law school.
Her story starts with heartbreak when Delta Nu sorority girl Elle is dumped by her Ivy-League-bound boyfriend, Warner, who claims Elle isn’t smart enough for him. So, Elle decides to take on Harvard Law in an attempt to win him back.
“Elle Woods is at UCLA, and very happy dating her college boyfriend — his name is Warner — and when he gets into Harvard Law to get his law degree, he says, ‘I’m done with you’, essentially,” Director Sommers describes. “And she’s heartbroken, so she does everything she possibly can to get into Harvard.”
At Harvard, Elle’s heart is further crushed when she realizes that Warner has fallen for another law student, Vivian.
“Vivian starts off the show as this snobby character; she’s completely against Elle, and she steals Elle’s ex, who Elle’s still in love with,” says Thunder Cassidy, a Gateway senior who is portraying the role of Vivian. “But by the end of the musical, she ends up swapping sides to work with Elle and bring her back into doing law.”
Vivian and Warner don’t believe that Elle is smart enough for law school. The pair want Elle to drop out, and they only see her as a “dumb blonde” who could never excel at Harvard. Elle begins to doubt herself. Then, she meets Emmett.
“Emmett is a big nerd,” Gabriel Robinson, who is taking on the role of Emmett, says. “He’s already graduated, and he’s basically just helping out the new students and feeling sympathy for them because they’re in the exact place that he was in before. He’s the one who’s going to guide Elle on her journey to eventually getting over Warner and finding better things to do in life.”
Emmett is one of the only students at Harvard Law to accept Elle for who she is and encourage her to keep going. So with Emmett and her Delta Nu sorority sisters on her side, Elle truly starts to feel like she can accomplish her goals. She realizes that her knowledge of law can be used to help others, and manages to surprise all those who doubted her when going above and beyond their expectations of her, while staying true to herself.
“[Elle] really makes a name for herself by the end of the show; by the end, she is on the way to be a very strong lawyer and even wins her first case,” Sommers explains.
The comedy musical features a brilliant upbeat and cheerful soundtrack, remarkably impressive dance numbers, and a vividly colored set.
“We chose Legally Blonde because it’s a really fun show,” Sommers says. “The goal is to rebuild the program from COVID times. When I came here last year, we had eighteen students audition for Aida. We had thirty-five for Peter Pan, and now we have fifty-two in this cast.”
Gateway senior Shannon Summers will be taking the stage as the role of Elle Woods.
“Elle is very bubbly, very friendly, she’s outgoing, she loves her friends. And the best part about her journey is that she stayed true to herself, no matter what,” Summers says.
Summers has performed on Gateway’s stage since her freshman year of high school, alongside a plethora of other productions for summer theater programs. She is driven in her roles, sweeping the audience off their feet with every song, ballot, and monologue. Summers also makes sure to connect entirely to all her characters to give the most genuine performance she can.
“I think connecting with your character is a given. You should find a moment in your life, or look at your personality, to find similar traits to the character you’re on stage as,” she explains. “With Elle, it’s just easy for me. I feel like I can right off the bat connect with her. I think when she really puts her mind to things, she excels, and I feel like that’s how I am as well. I feel like I’m being myself on stage, almost. I feel like I’m just ‘Shannon Summers: Pink Version.’”
With a show as intricate and energized as Legally Blonde, there are lots of important things that go into the way a scene is played out, placements for dance numbers, and blocking a scene.
Director Sommers lays out some challenges and difficulties in the creation of a scene to play it out perfectly.
“With blocking — blocking is telling people what to do and where to go in a scene — This is a show where there’s constantly a scene in the middle of a song,” he says. “So you have to know the song before you can block people into the scene, which is hard.”
Stage crew members are crucial to the production of a musical. They supervise and operate the technical aspects, like sound and lights, and also set changes in between scenes. Stage crew work around the clock to monitor the microphones and cues for specific lines. They work to block the set so they know exactly where to place props and move backdrops to during changes in scenes.
Layla Tice, a junior at Gateway, explains the struggles of orchestrating sound for a big production. “The hard part about sound is that bad audio is noticed instantly, but when it’s good, no one thinks about it,” she says. “The hardest part is making sure all the levels are right.”
The cast also have their own sets of challenges they must overcome in order to give the best performance possible. Quick costume changes, playing a role out of their comfort zone, and memorizing harmonies, all go into the troubles of putting on a musical.
“Playing Elle is very fun, it’s very silly. But really, it’s probably one of the hardest parts I think I’ve ever done,” Summers says. “In the show, there’s so many key changes in the songs, so singing wise, it’s difficult. She is all over the place.”
Summers also explains the difficult nature of being on stage for every scene and having to do a quick costume change in a limited amount of time.
“She also has a lot of costume changes, and she’s in every scene,” she says. The costume changes are back to back, but that’s what her character is. You wouldn’t expect anything like that, but that’s the point; you’re not supposed to expect it. It’s supposed to be like an, ‘I’m here!’ moment.”
Summers says that connecting with a role on stage is one of the most important steps in portraying a character in a production. Sometimes, cast members may take on the role of a character who they have difficulty matching with, or who is entirely different from their typical role, as Cassidy demonstrates with their role, Vivian.
“It’s an amazing experience. I never would’ve put myself in a mean character’s shoes before,” Cassidy shares. “It’s a very drastic difference from Peter Pan and Seymour in Little Shop. So stepping out of my comfort zone like that is something that I’ve really had a lot of fun doing.”
Ashleigh Allen, a senior playing Enid Hoops, mentions that the harmonies in the show are difficult to learn and memorize, because a lot of them sound very similar. As an additional backstage singer, Allen has to memorize harmonies for almost the entire soundtrack. And, like what Director Sommers had mentioned prior, Legally Blonde features a lot of scenes that are in the middle of a song and dance number.
“The show is basically just songs and dances with a few scenes, so we have to focus mainly on those two things which can be challenging,” Allen says.
Legally Blonde’s large cast features a lot of middle schoolers, who Director Sommers says have brought a new wave of talent to the production.
“We have an interesting mix of middle schoolers who are extremely talented — a lot of our leads are in seventh and eighth grade — and an interesting mix of veterans who are pushing the middle schoolers to be better,” Sommers remarks. “And I can see the middle schoolers watching them to learn from them, which I love.”
The older students in the musical have taken on the role of mentorship to the middle schoolers as they grow. Sommers and the seniors in the show all believe that if the younger members of the cast keep working, the musical productions in the next few years will be incredible shows.
“I hope I’m a good role model to these younger kids,” Summers reflects. “Because in two to three years, the show’s going to be insane. The talent that they have for middle schoolers, it’s great.”
Gateway Regional High School will present Legally Blonde: The Musical on March 23, 24, and 25 at 7:30 p.m., with an additional showing on March 25 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students. During the 2:00 p.m. showing on March 25th, all tickets will be $10.
“I’m really excited to put this out,” Cassidy expresses.
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