‘Legally Blonde’ director/choreographer has connection to OhioWritten by John Benson | | email@example.com
R-E-S-P-E-C-T is what Elle Woods wants — no, demands — in “Legally Blonde The Musical,” which makes its Toledo debut May 5 through 8 at the Stranahan Theater.
At least that’s what director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell originally saw in the 2001 feature film starring Reese Witherspoon. That led him to be involved in the Tony Award-nominated Broadway production, which revolves around sorority star Elle Woods. Her journey begins with being dumped by her boyfriend and ends with Harvard Law and self-respect.
“When I saw the film I thought it was a great story and it had a larger-than-life character in Elle Woods, which always translates in a great heroine for a musical,” said Mitchell, calling from Las Vegas. “I thought the story was important for young people today. We live in a country that tells us the outside is more important than the inside. And this story tells you exactly the opposite: Believe in yourself and don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s very important, particularly with all of the teen suicides that are happening in the country.”
The director is no stranger to turning feature films into Broadway stage productions, having previously choreographed “Hairspray,” “The Rocky Horror Show” and “The Full Monty,” as well as holding the same title for a Broadway-bound musical of “Catch Me If You Can.” He’s also responsible for choreographing the famous tango scene in the 1993 feature film “Scent of a Woman.”
While “Legally Blonde The Musical” comes to Toledo, Mitchell has a special connection to Ohio. Not only did he make his professional debut as a choreographer at the Cleveland Play House in the late ’80s but he also played a special role in “Drew Carey Show” history as the visionary behind the comedian’s Emmy-nominated dance number.
“Drew is a spectacular guy and he loves to dance,” said Mitchell. “I did an episode of the show after we actually worked together on a Disney film called ‘Geppetto,’ which wasn’t very successful. But I had a spectacular time working with Drew and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I was shopping at a Virgin Mega Store in Los Angeles and I heard from the other side of the aisle, ‘Jerry, it’s Drew. I’m going to do a dance sequence for my show, would you come choreograph it’?”
He added, “It was a fantastic episode. I had to teach Drew to do 10 different versions of himself dancing because in the episode he split into 10 versions of himself. Each had to dance on a different count and he was spectacular. He really worked hard.”
Working hard to get what you want may be a theme in “Legally Blonde The Musical,” but Mitchell said the production also marks an important direction for Broadway’s future.
“I think it speaks to young people, and you know theater has to embrace young audiences if it wants to survive,” Mitchell said. “Also, it’s a great show for families with a positive message for boys and girls about being true to yourself, not judging a book by its cover and, most importantly, about respect. If the guy wants to get the girl he has to respect her.”
“Legally Blonde” is part of the Theater League Lincoln Broadway Series. For tickets, call 1 (800) 745-3000.