When Dayton Live presented its 2021-2022 Community Report at its Annual Meeting in August, president and CEO Ty Sutton reported that it had been an “amazing” year, unlike any other in the organization’s history. “We had more subscription sales this season for the Premier Health Broadway in Dayton series than in any other year since the Schuster Center opened,” Sutton reported. “Additionally, incredible single ticket sales for Broadway as well as many other events meant we ended the year with a net operating profit of more than $2 million.”
As a result, he added, much needed upgrades and repairs are now underway at the Schuster Center and Victoria Theatre.
The popular Broadway series responsible for much of Dayton Live’s good news is kicking off the season with musicals based on two popular movies. “Pretty Woman” was in town the first week in November, and will be followed by “Legally Blonde–The Musical” which opens Tuesday, Nov. 22 and runs through Saturday, Nov. 26.
The 2007 musical, based on the novel “Legally Blonde” by Amanda Brown, was made into a 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon. It’s the story of fashionable Elle Woods, a sorority girl who enrolls at Harvard Law School in the hopes of winning back her ex-boyfriend, Warner. When she realizes her legal education can be of use to others, she successfully defends exercise queen Brooke Wyndham in a murder trial.
The musical, in which Elle tackles stereotypes ranging from sexism to snobbery, transports audiences from the UCLA sorority house to the halls of Harvard. It’s pretty clear you can be both legally blonde and still be the smartest person in the room. In addition to Elle and her friends, you’ll meet Elle’s adorable chihuahua, Bruiser.
One of those looking forward to the show is Matt Owens of Beavercreek who’s been a subscriber to the Broadway series for the past three years.
“One thing I really like is that it brings a lot of different shows to town, including those that might not have been on my bucket list,” he says. “A few years ago I remember watching ' Finding Neverland’ and I was glad I saw it. Otherwise I might only go to see the Hamiltons and Les Mizes. They are always top-notch, quality productions.”
Turning popular movies into musicals
You may have noticed that more popular films are being turned into musicals in recent years. Diane Lala, professor of musical theater at The University of Cincinnati’s prestigious College Conservatory of Music, says that’s been increasingly true in the past 10-20 years.
“I do think that producers are looking for a sure thing to get people to go to the theater,” she notes. " When they put these movies onto the stage, they hope that the name recognition will bring people. It could also be the generation that’s grown up with television and streaming services.”
Other current movie-to-musicals include: “Mrs. Doubtfire: The Musical,” “The Notebook,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” and “Almost Famous: The Musical.”
Lala, who has been associated with CCM for 34 years, prefers shows with original music like ‘Legally Blonde’ that have been written specifically for the Broadway production by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin. The book is by Heather Hach.
“To me that’s more fun because it’s not music that’s already been heard like the music from ‘Moulin Rouge,’” she explains. “They’ve taken great moments from the movie and turned those into songs.”
One example, Lala says, is the memorable segment when the character of Paulette is being taught in her beauty salon how to flirt with the UPS driver. The musical number is called “Bend and Snap.”
Ashley Morton, who portrays Paulette in the musical, remembers seeing the “Legally Blonde” movie when she was growing up and says she immediately fell in love with it. “I thought it was hilarious and heartwarming,” she remembers. “When the musical came out I was about 13 and saw it on Broadway in New York with my mother.”
Credit: Michael Drager
Credit: Michael Drager
Paulette is the endearing character originated by Jennifer Coolidge in the film. “She’s a tough cookie with a heart of gold who’s had a rough time,” says Morton about her character. “She owns a hair salon and when Elle comes into her life, she’s someone Paulette can champion. In return, Elle is able to bring out the best in Paulette.”
Morton labels the “Bend and Snap” dance sequence an adrenaline rush –filled with singing, dancing, lights. “It’s a great number that takes Paulette from a place of major insecurity and transforms her into a different woman who can feel good about herself. For the first time she realizes she can become exactly who she wants to be.”
Morton, who grew up in California, feels “insanely lucky” that the little girl who once went to see Broadway shows with her mother is now performing in them. She’ll travel to more than 80 cities during the current tour and says she can’t think of any other way she’d get that amazing opportunity. For Morton, it’s about the people she encounters – her talented colleagues and appreciative audiences.
“We got out of a show one night and there was a Girl Scout troop at the stage door,” she recalls. " They’d come to get their performance badges and were so sweet about the show. Moments like those remind me that although sometimes this biz can be hard and a ton of work, it’s worth it when I get to meet people who enjoy the show as much as I love doing it.”
Lala, who directed and choreographed a production of “Legally Blonde” at CCM in the fall of 2014 has also worked on other musicals adapted from films– she directed and co-choreographed CCM’s fall 2013 production of “Singin’ in the Rain.”
“Legally Blonde” remains a favorite. “I fell in love with the story and the way they were telling it and the music is fun and catchy and smart,” Lala says. “It has strong female characters that go on a journey and prove they are strong and win and that’s a really great thing. "
Like many of us, she still finds herself watching the film over and over when she comes across it on TV. “I like the theme and the message,” Lala says. “If you set your mind to do something, you can do it! Elle always looks for the good in people even when they’re treating her like crap. I love that she wins, that she goes through a lot and comes out on the other side.”
HOW TO GO:
What: “Legally Blonde– The Musical”
When: Tuesday, Nov. 22 through Sunday, Nov. 27
Where: Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton
Tickets: $26-$109. Available by calling (937) 228-3630 or at www.daytonlive.org/legally-blonde
Run time: Two hours and 20 minutes including a 20 minute intermission.
- Background on Broadway. Sixty minutes before each performance you can learn about the development, history, and artistry of the show. This free event is held in the Schuster Center’s fourth floor lobby. You must have a ticket to that day’s performance.
- Bagels & Broadway will be held from 8:30-10:30 a.m., on Tuesday, Nov. 22. Have a cup of coffee and a bagel and watch the show’s crew and members of IATSE set up. Patrons can register at www.daytonlive.org/legally-blonde
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