I Can't Stop Crying Over Legally Blonde
I sat down to write this blog and I’m already crying so here we go.
I listen to a lot of Broadway music, just in general. Thanks to Pandora Radio, I’ve discovered a lot of musicals I might not have otherwise and fallen in love with some of the lesser known tracks for even the most popular shows.
This blog is about Legally Blonde - The Musical
I was first introduced to this show by my college roommate. She showed me the song Chip On My Shoulder, and I was hooked. I would literally listen to the nearly 9 minute song on repeat until someone cut me off. Then, I would put on headphones and keep listening.
Despite my fixation with Chip On My Shoulder, I never ventured to any of the other tracks. Of course, I knew the infamous opener – Omigod You Guys – but I’d never really followed the soundtrack as dramatically as I followed other shows.
And that’s because I was very ignorant to the importance of this show.
You see, Legally Blonde – the movie had come out in 2001. I’m not sure how long after that or at what age I was, but my mother and I sat down to watch the movie together. I like watching movies with my mom. I did not like Legally Blonde. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Pretty soon, Pandora was popping Legally Blonde songs into my playlists and I found myself really enjoying them. I made a mental note to see the musical someday.
Then I heard the song Legally Blonde. And it was so much of what I’ve always wanted a song to say but had never realized. One by one, I found myself obsessing over every song on the soundtrack (well, almost every song) until I definitely knew I wanted to write about it.
The day after the 2016 presidential election, was particularly hard for me and I found myself desperately shuffling through Pandora and YouTube for music that could give me some comfort. I settled on the sadness in Legally Blonde and other slower tunes.
Then the next day, I let Pandora run its natural waves of “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” working over the mindless rhythms that beat on in my ears. Then the Legally Blonde Remix came on. This is the song that immediately follows Legally Blonde in the show. This is a song I’ve listened to countless times but for some reason, one line stood out above all the other noise: “Girls it's a fact, when you're attacked, you gotta respond.”
And that became my rallying cry. That became my silent solace. That was when I became hungry for Legally Blonde and that is why last night I finally sat down to watch the musical, taking notes as I went.
Before I keep writing, I’m going to give a brief summary of the musical. I haven’t seen the movie except for that first time and though I know they’re very similar, this summary is strictly referring to the musical version. *Spoilers ahead*
The stage opens with the sorority sisters of Delta Nu at UCLA. They believe their President Elle Woods is about to be proposed to by her boyfriend, Warner. Instead, Warner dumps her over dinner, telling her that he needs someone “serious” since he will be attending Harvard Law and then becoming a senator. Naturally, Elle is crushed. She decides to follow him to Harvard. Her blonde hair and pink outfits make her stick out like a sore thumb on the college campus and she is kicked out of class on the first day by Professor Callahan, an infamously strict professor who gives 4 students an internship each year, basically guaranteeing them a law career.
Elle catches up with Warner and finds he is now engaged to fellow law student Vivienne, who immediately has it out for Elle. Vivienne invites Elle to a “costume party” (actually just a normal party) in an attempt to humiliate her. Elle shows up dressed as a Playboy bunny and later that night is seen sitting on a bench crying about the series of event that led her here.
Enter Emmett. Emmett has been there since the beginning. He is Professor Callahan’s teaching assistant. He befriends Elle and through the song Chip On My Shoulder, he helps her study and get back on her feet at the school. It is also in this song that Elle realizes she’s been chasing the wrong thing and no longer is desperately seeking Warner’s approval.
Professor Callahan posts his internship information early because he needs extra hands on a murder case he has taken featuring a famous fitness video instructor – Brooke Wyndham, who is accused of killing her husband. Warner and Vivienne both receive the internship and Warner proposes on the spot. Vivienne says yes and Elle is momentarily crushed… until Emmett shows her that she also received the internship.
Flash forward to the trail and the prosecution is trying to show motive by claiming Brooke Wyndham had an affair with the pool boy. Elle is convinced the pool boy is gay and through Emmett’s cross examination, the pool boy slips and admits it, only to have his boyfriend – also in the court room – confirm this, turning the trial around for the team.
That night the team celebrates and as everyone leaves, Professor Callahan asks Elle to stay behind for a moment. He hits on her and then forcefully kisses her. She slaps him and he fires her on the spot.
Cue Legally Blonde. Elle is packing up and leaving. Meanwhile, Emmett finally realizes he’s in love with her and is not about to let her leave. Elle goes to the hair studio the next morning to say goodbye to her friend Paulette when Vivienne overhears her goodbye from across the salon. Vivienne watched the whole thing go down between Elle and Professor Callahan and, having a complete change in heart, encourages Elle to stay.
Elle goes back to the trial and with Emmett’s help as a licensed attorney to supervise her, she is able to represent Brooke Wyndham in the trial. Elle is questioning Brooke’s step daughter and is able to break her alibi when she realizing that the stepdaughter wouldn’t have been in the shower at the time of the crime since she had just gotten a perm (and you can’t shower for 48 hours after you get a perm). The stepdaughter confesses to the murder and Brooke is freed.
Warner congratulates Elle and proposes to her (Vivienne has dumped him). Elle graciously says no explaining, “I thought losing your love was a blow / I could never withstand / Look how far I have come without / Anyone holding my hand.”
Having won the trial and gained closure on the whole “Warner situation,” we fast forward to graduation where Elle is giving her Valedictorian speech. We hear about what all the supporting characters are doing with their futures and at the end, Elle proposes to Emmett. Happily ever after.
Now here’s where I come back in.
The first – and only time- I watched the movie, I disliked it because I thought Elle was everything I wasn’t. She was bubbly, attractive, and blonde. She liked things like fashion and shopping and carrying small dogs in big purses. I laughed too loud, had dark, unruly hair, and liked things like climbing trees, dinosaur chicken nuggets, and big dogs and backpacks.
I thought she was too girly and I hated that she was in love. I hated that she would uproot her entire life for a man – a man who was terrible to her none the less (looking at you, Warner). She was nothing like me and I didn’t like her.
I’m not proud of younger Liz. I didn’t like Elle because she wasn’t like me.
Younger Liz was an awful Feminist.
At first I wanted to write this post about acceptance of people – not just women – in every form. I wanted to write about how Elle in her pink dress deserves as much respect as me in my sweatpants. How style and appearance and hobbies shouldn’t define our worth or determine if we give a person basic respect.
Then I started watching the movie and wanted to write about all the subtle signs of emotional dating abuse – hi, Warner. He is constantly telling her she isn’t good enough for Harvard, for the internship, for anything. He even harasses her after Callahan forces himself onto her – like she needs any more hurt that night.
Then I thought about writing about how just totally fierce Elle is as a character. From scene one, she is commanding, confident, and true to herself. She is gracious and loyal and smart and even though her “smart” is different, than my smart, it’s undeniable that she’s a really great protagonist.
Then I reverted to my original blog post idea – I wanted to write about the song Legally Blonde. I wanted to analyze Elle’s song right after she has been hit on, kissed, and fired by her boss. I wanted to dig out every piece of what that feels like and talk about that and talk about the song that follows, where she steps back out into the world and “fights back” so to speak. But that’s its own topic for another day and I’d prefer to leave this on a high note.
So I remember one of my favorite lines from the song What You Want where Elle is pleading her case to Harvard Admissions Staff and says:
“How about love? You ever been in love? Cause if you have you’ll know. That love never accepts a defeat, no challenge it can’t meet, no place it cannot go. Don’t say no to a women in love. Don’t laugh when I say love. Don’t think that I’m naïve. Because even a person who’s smart can listen to their heart, can listen and believe. So believe in what love can achieve. Do you believe?”
As someone who has always shied away from love and commitment, this one stuck with me. As someone who has also been labeled naïve most of my adult life, this gave me some solace. I think I used to think I had to be on my own to be “smart.” I didn’t have time to fall in love and I certainly didn’t want to become someone like Elle Woods who would drop everything and chase an ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School (extreme example).
But I’m starting to realize it might just be an honor to be like Elle Woods. Even a person who’s smart, can listen to their heart. It’s like in one line, she gave me permission to feel things…to be an intelligent, independent woman who also happens to be in love.
And more than that, watching this as an adult woman has made me realize how important girl power is. We spend most of the musical hating Vivienne, first because she is Warner’s new girlfriend but also because she’s just plain rude. However by the end, she has the most radical transformation and is actually the rallying cry behind getting Elle back in the court room. Vivienne saves the day.
And that matters.
Because whether you wear pink dresses and spend every weekend at the mall or you haven’t worn a dress in years and your knees are perpetually grass stained from pick-up soccer games, you are valid. Being in love doesn’t make you stupid or smart or anything in between. It just makes you in love. Being in a dress doesn’t make you girly or a tomboy. It just means you’re wearing a dress.
I’ve gone so off the rails from my original point here and the simple fact is, there’s too much to say about Legally Blonde. I can’t stop listening to the music. I can’t stop re-watching certain scenes. And I can’t stop thinking about everything this musical has meant to me.
I’ll be back in future blogs to cover more of these topics. In the meantime, check out the show and let me know what topics you think are most worth exploring.