Thursday, June 18, 2015

Legally Blonde: Preview of Aberystwyth Arts Centre's summer show

Rebecca Stenhouse plays Elle Woods

This feature was first published on June 18th, 2015 by Arts Scene in Wales.

That old adage of 'never work with children or animals' doesn't scare Anthony Williams. He's the director of this year's summer spectacular at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and while it may not involve children, it does have two dogs on the cast list.

Legally Blonde: The Musical is a cult favourite which tells the story of sorority girl Elle who decides to follow her ex-boyfriend Warner to law school in order to win back his affections. Famously, Elle has a pet Chihuahua called Bruiser which she takes almost everywhere with her, but the inherent unpredictability of having live animals on stage doesn't daunt Anthony too much.

"We actually have two dogs in the cast," he laughs. "Elle has the Chihuahua, Bruiser, and her friend Paulette has a bulldog called Rufus. But the prospect of having dogs on stage doesn't scare me too much. I've worked with animals before – including doves at a show I did in Llandudno – but we used our own contacts to find the right dogs we needed.

"They are new dogs to the stage – this will be their stage debut! And yes, having animals does bring with it additional problems. The dogs have their carers and their own individual needs, but they are all catered for and they will be very well looked after!"

Director Anthony Williams
Anthony explained why the team at the Arts Centre chose Legally Blonde for this summer's show.

"We wanted something different to what we'd done before. After the huge success of Sister Act last year we knew we wanted something equally as strong, with a movie title, and Legally Blonde seemed to fit the bill. One thing we did find with Sister Act was that it attracted a greater amount of younger people to the audience, and we wanted to maintain that, so we thought the themes of Legally Blonde would do that for us."

Legally Blonde is a big production. When did planning begin?

"We started in the first week of February and we're still working certain things out now, so it does take a good five months to get up and running," says Anthony.

"We had a big casting session down in London too, and this show has lots of costumes and sets so it's been pretty full-on for some time now. Rehearsals start on the last Monday of June, which means we have three weeks for everybody to master what they need to do and learn the musical."

Anthony adds that three weeks is a slightly shorter amount of time than might be average for a production of this type and scale, but he is more than confident that it'll be alright on the night.

"We have some really talented cast. Around 3,000 people applied for auditions, and we only have 17 roles to fill, so we had a lot of people to see," he says.

"In the end we actually auditioned 250 people, it was a long process. Some characters were easy to cast – you just saw the right person straight away – whereas others were subject to some very long discussions because there was just so much talent presented to us."

The cast will be doubling – and sometimes tripling – their roles too, so that the full variety of bodies on stage is achieved. An actor might have a supporting role in Act 1 and then appear as an incidental character in Act 2.

"It's very much a company show," adds Anthony.

Barnaby Hughes plays Warner
Huntington III
Legally Blonde started off as a novel by Amanda Browne and was then made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon in 2001. That span off into a live stage musical six years later. How close is the musical to the film?

"Very close. You always refer back to your source material, and when that is as strong as Legally Blonde, you tend to stick with that. We have made a few tweaks here and there, but essentially it is the same show people will be expecting from the film and West End musical.

"The story is a real journey, for many of the characters, but particularly Elle. The theme of the show is not to judge a book by its cover, and I think a lot of people might relate to that."

The musical has a rip-roaring score too. Which are Anthony's favourites?

"I don't usually have favourites until we see them taking shape on the stage during rehearsals but I have to say Ireland and What You Want are both up there for me. There's so much good stuff, and the cast are so well trained in musical theatre that all of the numbers will be great."

Anthony's version of Legally Blonde will have 17 scene changes, and comprises a staggering 600 costumes. There's a lot of work goes into the show behind the scenes.

"Well, we've got a great designer who works on everything – sets, costumes, wigs, the lot. It is a lot of work but we're getting there.

"Each of these shows we do has its own unique problems, and while I wouldn't say Legally Blonde is any harder than previous shows such as Sister Act or Hairspray, this is a big musical with a lot going on, particularly set-wise. The carpenters have really had their work cut out.

"But we're having so much fun with it. It's a big, brash, colourful, lively show and I just know the audience is going to love it and have a great time. It'll be great to have them dancing in the aisles!"

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