Students prepare for ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’

Emmalie Herd, Co-EIC

When the lights come up on the stage in Bellevue West’s auditorium, the audience is placed in another world. From plays to musicals, the cast and crew at West put on a show that keeps viewers engaged until the very end. On Feb. 28, the audience will be transported to Boston, Massachusetts in the early 2000s for the opening night of “Legally Blonde,” the spring musical.

According to Director Jennifer Ettinger, Elle Woods has the perfect life, great sorority, the perfect boyfriend, and she is about to graduate. Then, instead of receiving a proposal from her boyfriend, she gets dumped. She decides to follow him to Harvard Law school where she realizes her worth is more than that of any man.

The cast of Legally Blonde is the largest Ettinger has ever had to direct. For Bellevue West, putting on a show of this size provides its own challenges.

According to music director AJ Reimer, when the school wants to put on a show they find a show they like, find out who owns it and then contact them so they can get the rights to put on the show.

“It is a specific, expensive contract,” Riemer said. “The companies that own these things aren’t just, ‘oh, go right ahead.’”

The contract is based on a couple of factors that involve the total amount of money that the school plans to make off of the musical. According to Reimer, the books must be sent back on a specific date or there is a fine of several hundred dollars.

Once the actors have their scripts, they can begin working on character building. They answer questions about their characters in order to get a full understanding of who they are.

“So they have to build, ‘what does this character walk like?’, ‘what does this character talk like?’, and then they have to do that for each character,” Ettinger said. 

Senior Addi Stueve plays the role of Elle Woods in the musical. Stueve has had extensive vocal training to prepare. The role challenges Stueve to strengthen her belting voice to play this strong soprano part. Capturing Elle Wood’s preppy personality is another element Stueve has been working on.

“She’s a preppy, annoying girl,” Stueve said. “And I feel like some would say I can be that very well. So I haven’t been doing too much, just being more preppy and having a lot of pink in my life, so that’s new.”

According to Stueve, one of the most challenging parts of the role is having lots of responsibility to do things right.

“I have to make sure that I know everything, and I can’t mess up because if I mess up, then everyone messes up,” Stueve said.

Senior Zhenja Wallin plays Paulette, a 30-year-old hairstylist from Boston. According to Wallin, the most challenging part of this role was expanding the range of her mixed voice, along with mastering the Boston accent. 

“I’ve gotten a lot better just by listening to other people do it and by getting advice from Ettinger,” Wallin said. “She told me that if you’re not smiling, then you’re doing it wrong. You just have to talk with a smile and make all your vowels really wide.”

Wallin said a major part of getting to character is “rewiring your brain” to think like the character would. According to Wallin, acting allows people to see things through the perspective of the characters they are playing.

“I think allowing other people to see that different perspective is really rewarding and to make that person more human and to make it more relatable for the audience,” Wallin said.

According to Reimer, the process of learning the music itself involves learning the trickier parts first, using practice tracks, then putting all the pieces together in practice.

“If you think, ‘Oh, I’m only in the chorus’, no, you’re vitally important,” Reimer said. “It’s a lot of individual effort that gets brought to the stage. So, it’s working as a group, but it’s also a lot of individual work outside of the rehearsal process to make sure you’re prepared.”

Senior Addison Phillips is the set foreman for “Legally Blonde”. According to Phillips, other people rely on the set crew to get things done quickly. They said that unless the set is done then the painter can’t paint, the props can’t be set out and without the props, the actors can’t properly rehearse.

“It’s a lot,” Phillips said. “Especially with it being my senior year, I want everything done the best it can be. It’s also stressful to manage all of that and make sure I’m building something that I’m proud of.”

According to Phillips, a big challenge with the set is the size of it. Last year, when the school put on “She Loves Me,” the set stayed in place almost the whole time. With “Legally Blonde”, there are many different sets constantly coming on and off stage. This means limited space for other aspects of the show like the pit.

According to Reimer, in most theaters the pit sits just below the stage where directors can conduct the band, as well as the singers. With the lack of space in the auditorium, the pit has been moved to the commons where they will be miked so their sound can still be projected into the auditorium.

“So, I’m not even in the same room with these students,” Reimer said. “It’s the only time where, instead of the singers following the director, we’re actually following the singers.”

The band includes a couple of hired professionals to play alongside Bellevue West students. Because of this, all pit members come to rehearsals with the songs already learned so they can work on sharpening their sound.

In addition to playing in the pit, many of the West students are also playing in the live marching band that is featured in one of the scenes of the musical.

“We’re going to be marching from behind the chairs, down the aisles, and onto the stage while playing, so that’s gonna be that’s gonna be something,” junior Lucas Bartholomew said.

According to Reimer, the band will often get the compliment that members of the audience didn’t realize it was a live band, but rather a CD or other recording.

“So when you’re clapping for Addi Stueve singing her great big number, we feel like you’re also clapping for us because we helped her get to that level,” Reimer said.

Senior Amelia Escalante is the co-head of the costume shop where all the costumes for the musical are made. According to Escalante, they try to pull as many items as they can from what they already have, since constructing new items takes more time. 

The costume shop has to pay careful attention to what era the clothes are from to keep the costumes cohesive and many items just don’t fit in the 2000s category. So, some items are being deconstructed and turned into something new.

“Literally every costume has been picked apart and deliberated over,” Escalante said. “It went from design, to pulling, to Ettinger or me or Sasha [Roper] being like, ‘this doesn’t work for the character–we need to try again’.”

There are many layers to the musical and they all come together for the last dress rehearsal and finally opening night. 

“I think people don’t realize how much time is put into it,” Ettinger said. “There’s no way that they can just come to rehearsals and then be prepared for the show. They do a lot on their own.”

The show opens Feb. 28 and closes March 4; tickets are on sale at