Gabriel Humphreys

This year, the ADC’s Lent Term Musical (the highest-budget musical of the year performed at the end of Lent Term) is Legally Blonde. For the uninitiated, it can seem to be a silly, campy rom-com with all the emotional nuance of a soap opera, tailored for a noughties audience who didn't quite understand third-wave feminism. The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Legally Blonde: The Musical isn’t the feel good, fancy-free chick-flick that you might think of when you hear the name, it’s a feminist narrative for a 2019 audience too.

"Reading Elle’s story ... inspired and empowered me to be the person I am today"

The Musical, like the film starring Reese Witherspoon, is based on the real-life experience of Amanda Brown, who studied at Stanford Law School and found herself deeply out of place as a blonde who enjoyed fashion and read Elle magazine at one of North America’s top law schools. The film was an instant hit and is now lauded as a classic of 2000s cinema, but on re-watching, it is a little hesitant in embracing some of it’s more overtly female empowered narratives.

When pitching the show to the theatre, I was really passionate about bringing Elle’s struggle through the masculine-centric academic world onto a stage that sits in the heart of one of the world’s most elite academic institutions. Cambridge is a fortress of exclusivity which has been centred for so long around the lives of men (and rich, un-diverse, white men at that) that as a person who does not fall into that category, it can be very hard to feel accepted. It’s too easy to dismiss Elle’s story as a formulaic narrative, but it is actually so powerfully subversive – its key message is that aesthetics don’t prove or define someone’s worth, and how you do not have to compromise your personality or interests to survive in this world. The musical embraces this fact far more confidently than the film, and makes it not only powerful and affirming but funny and exciting!

The Elle in the musical is similar to Witherspoon’s silver screen interpretation, but is far more nuanced, becoming a genuine, believable and likeable character. It is primarily through song that we see the deepest and darkest of her emotions, and connect with everything from her very real heartbreak to her ecstatic elation. She is flawed, but that’s what makes her a figure to aspire to - she takes her flaws, acknowledges them and works against them. Elle’s power as a character also comes from her unflappable lack of judgement. While society and academia’s expectations and prejudgements are piled on her, she refuses to judge others, even when egged on by her sorority sisters. In the same way, she serves as a foil to the exaggerated portrayal of other stereotypes in the show - by exposing our inherent reaction to those stereotypes, by comparison, it reminds us that things are not always how they look, and we shouldn’t take things at face value.

 There is also an all too necessary message for a Cambridge audience. Elle experiences what can only be described as Imposter Syndrome, multiple times, both when at Harvard and when working at her internship with a law firm. Questioning not only your ability but also your right to inhabit an intellectual environment is a far too common trend in Cambridge, but one that feels unavoidable and unconquerable. Elle does work hard, but she doesn’t get through these feelings by becoming a workaholic and battling through them. Instead, she looks outward, seeks the help and support of her friends and finds new ones along the way. It shows the power of friendship (female friendship in particular) and shows just how wonderful and important it is to reach out to help someone who is in pain and struggling to come to terms with their place in the world.


Mountain View

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When a supervisor of mine made an off-hand comment about the amount of eyeliner I was wearing at 11 am (I might add that it was a very sharply cut wing which I was very proud of), I suddenly felt paranoid that no one was taking me seriously because I’m interested in make-up as well as academia. Reading Elle’s story, and seeing how not once does she compromise herself and her femininity but instead changes the world around her, inspired and empowered me to be the person I am today; eyeliner and all. As a woman in Cambridge, this show has not only been an incredibly personal experience, but a wonderful joy to show the world and I cannot wait for audiences to see it and to feel like their voices are being heard.

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