'Legally Blonde' in rehearsal

Cast members of the upcoming DeForest Area High School musical “Legally Blonde” rehearse in preparation for a run of shows Nov. 7-10 at the school’s Performing Arts Center.

There’s more to “Legally Blonde” than meets the eye. A lot more, actually.

The subject of a 2001 movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, it’s the story of a sorority girl who goes to Harvard Law School to impress an ex-boyfriend in a misguided attempt to win him back that’s been turned into a stage show.

Digging a little deeper into the tale, Cortney Hammer, the head director of the upcoming DeForest Area High School musical production of “Legally Blonde,” finds plenty of substance.

“I think what makes it unique is the content,” said Hammer, who is in charge of the artistic direction of the show, which includes making sure the blocking is right and teaching the vocals. “It’s easy to look on the surface and think the content is vapid, but it’s not. It’s about overcoming stereotypes and how female empowerment comes in all shapes and sizes.”

The main character, Elle Woods, played by Clare O’Connell, surprises everyone and finds success in the courts. The DAHS musical “Legally Blonde” runs Nov. 7-10, with shows at 7-9 p.m. Tickets went on sale Oct. 1 and are available online.

Spencer Pabon plays Emmett Forrest, while Tanner Engeseth assumes the role of Professor Callahan in a cast comprising 32 members.

“It’s super funny,” said Pabon.

Engeseth added that “Legally Blonde” appeals to more of a teen or adult demographic than last year’s musical, “Shrek.” The humor is more sophisticated, and so is everything else about the show.

Comparing it to “Shrek,” Engeseth said, “There is more singing and dancing. It’s also harder for the crew to put together.”

Pabon explained that it has more range and rhythm and is more complex.

“It’s fun when everything works smoothly,” said Pabon.

Making it all work seamlessly is a big job, with theater, band and choir members all involved in bringing the show to life. It’s a high-wire act that’s risky to pull off, according to Hammer.

“The show is a big step in another direction for our musicals as a whole,” said Hammer.

Hammer said there are 18 to 20 different locations for the set. One of the songs takes place in four of them, said Hammer. The trick, she said, is “transitioning without pulling away the focus from the actors.”

Hammer said audiences will enjoy the humor, although she added, “It’s a little different for this community.” While she described it as “PG-13,” she explained, “There’s nothing grossly inappropriate. The humor is fast-paced and more adult.”

Hammer said it allows kids to poke fun at things that would be considered taboo at school. She said the production started to really come together at rehearsal on Thursday, Oct. 31. The cast moved more smoothly through its transitions, she said.

“The kids have worked very hard,” said Hammer. “We’ve asked a lot of them. The schedule has been very demanding.”

Last year’s production of “Shrek” was less complicated, because it focused on the lead characters, according to Hammer. This show has much more of an ensemble feel to it, she said. Often, there are at least 16 kids in a given scene, which can include a lot of background characters.

“It’s different having that many kids onstage at one time,” said Hammer.

Around 20 kids have been involved in building the staging for “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” With all the different locations in the show, Hammer said, “There are a lot of big platform pieces to move.”

There are also props to incorporate, including two dogs.

Plot-wise, the musical is similar to the movie. The personality traits of the characters aren’t much different. Hammer said the actors have broadened their acting palettes, as they’re playing more realistic characters.

DeForest Area High School Director of Bands Brandon Bautz is also a director with the show. He said the music is more difficult than that of “Shrek,” so he and the band, which includes a couple of adult musicians, have held more rehearsals.

Bautz described the music as “energizing, with a lot of complex rhythms and syncopated patterns.” It also has good melody lines, according to Bautz, and is “really well-composed.”

Bautz said they are “pushing the envelope” with “Legally Blonde” in trying to take the school’s musical theater program to greater heights. The returning students from last year have brought their experience to the show.

Costuming is being prepared by Terri Treinen, with Michael Stanek is leading the choreography, as the production team numbers six people.

Bautz said area businesses really stepped up to help bring the show to DeForest. Finding sponsorships has also been part of his job, along with lining up concessions and ushers. Their sponsorships helped raise the $5,000 needed to get permission to put on “Legally Blonde.” They have also helped feed the students involved, who’ve had to stay late for rehearsals and set construction.

“This is the first year of doing a musical back to back,” said Bautz. “Last year, we decided to do a musical every year. Each year, we want to do something to ratchet it up.”

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