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Original Broadway cast member directs CCU production of 'Legally Blonde The Musical'

February 13, 2020
Department of Theatre brings Hollywood film to the Wheelwright stage under the direction of original Broadway cast member Jason Gillman with "Legally Blonde The Musical."

Audience members will find a familiar soul in Elle Woods—a character made famous on the big screen by Reese Witherspoon with her advice to “Bend and snap!”—when the blonde bombshell takes the stage at Coastal Carolina University.

The CCU Department of Theatre presents Lawrence O’Keefe’s and Nell Benjamin’s award-winning production “Legally Blonde The Musical,” guest directed by original Broadway cast member Jason Gillman. Performances on the Wheelwright stage take place Thursday, Feb. 20, through Friday, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m.; an exclusive scholarship fundraising performance on Saturday, Feb. 22, at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Feb. 26, through Saturday, Feb. 29, at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 29, at 3 p.m.

Based on the Hollywood film, the story follows Elle, a sorority-girl-turned-Harvard-law-student in pursuit of winning back her ex-boyfriend, Warner. As she tackles stereotypes and scandal in school and the courtroom, Elle must successfully defend exercise queen Brooke Wyndham in the murder trial of her life.

“The story is about love, it’s about loss, it’s about judgements, it’s about acceptance and not being accepted,” said Gillman, who was a member of the ensemble and understudy for the role of Warner in the original “Legally Blonde the Musical” run from April 2007 to October 2008 on Broadway.

Senior musical theatre major Chloe Belongilot, who plays Elle’s best friend Serena, said the challenge was moving beyond her character’s sorority-girl stereotype.

“If you just play the surface level, I don’t think that you get the full story,” said Belongilot. “No matter what kind of ‘type’ you are, your character still has wants and needs; they still want to prove themselves. Finding out why your character makes the choices they make, that’s a big part of acting.”

Gillman, with seven Broadway shows under his theatrical belt, including “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Chicago,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” is driving that ethos. No matter the performance—drama or comedy—his goal is to capture the story’s emotional truth.

“I’ve been challenging [the students] to not treat this like a fluffy musical because there’s a heart to it and there’s a story that needs to be told,” said Gillman. “The stakes are high just like they would be in a Shakespearean drama or an Arthur Miller piece.”

Gillman said that this dedication to the story’s material separates young actors from the herd once they leave the classroom.

“These are lessons I’m trying to work into them. Operating in this way is going to get you far,” said Gillman.

Belongilot emphasized that the world needs more lighthearted stories of hope like “Legally Blonde.”

“Even though some people might see it as too corny or too lighthearted, it’s the little spark of joy that we need,” said Belongilot. “It’s probably a little bit unrealistic—the story of hope—but when you leave, you’ll feel better and more joyful. It also teaches you to see past our stereotypes.”

The cast features Ava Smith as Elle; Jason Skibinski as Emmett; Grainger Russell as Paulette; Jake Lopez as Warner; Kenley Juback as Vivienne; Caitlin Holst as Brooke; Drake King as Callahan; Lindsey Minerva as Margot; Hannah Dahl as Pilar; Belongilot as Serena; and Hank Santos as Grandmaster Chad/Dewey/Kyle. The female and male ensemble includes Jazzy Cores, Claire Campbell, Maria Boissoneault, Hannah Duncan, Caroline Gilmore, Lindsay Hoffpauir, Makenna Hughes, Carly Krulikowski, Lillian Rowan, Eliza Turner, Chloe Wendler, Jessica Connelly, Brenna Kellem, Spencer Hall, Grayson Todd, Robert Laws, Jack Wallace, Bryce Ridley-Williams, Peter Eidler, Zach Green, Kaleb Jenkins, Brendan Considine, Mitchell Maguire, and Lucas Hallawer.

The exclusive performance hosted by the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts Board of Visitors on Saturday, Feb. 22, at 7:30 p.m. includes a cocktail reception at 6 p.m. in the Singleton Ballroom and exclusive interaction with cast members and director following the performance. This annual scholarship event benefits scholarship opportunities in the Edwards College. Admission is $75. To purchase tickets, call the Edwards College Dean’s Office at 843-349-2421 or click here.

Reserved seating tickets for all other performances range from $20-$25 for adults; $16-$20 for faculty/staff, OLLI members, senior, and group (10+); and $7 for CCU/HGTC students and children. To purchase tickets, visit coastal.edu/culturalarts or coastal.edu/tickets or call the Wheelwright Box Office between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 843-349-ARTS (2787). The Wheelwright Box Office is located at 108 Spadoni Park Circle on the Conway campus.

The Department of Theatre will bring “Men on Boats” to the Edwards Theatre stage in April 2020.

Additional resources:

coastal.edu/theatre

facebook.com/CCUDepartmentofTheatre