When a lead actor confesses that her character is one of her ‘dream roles,’ it would seem to portend great things. Michelle Wagman plays Elle Woods in Drury Lane’s Legally Blonde: The Musical, opening November 1st. This marks Drury Lane’s 44th year as Burlington’s ‘premiere musical theatre company.’
“This show is all about female empowerment, and I’ve come to realize just how strong and resilient Elle really is,” Wagman enthuses. “She is so much more than her blonde, pink, sparkly exterior, although that part is so much fun! She is smart and determined, and she doesn’t let anything stop her from achieving her goals.”
It’s fair to say Wagman shares Elle’s plucky spirit; not only is this her debut with Drury Lane but it also marks her return to the stage after a six year hiatus during which she focused her energies on raising her young daughter. An experienced actor, she’s previously performed at Theatre Aquarius as well as on stages across Canada. Currently, she’s Director of Performing Arts at Burlington Christian Academy.
Steering the show is Director Michael MacLennan, along with Anne Barnshaw as Music Director and Producer Joanne Warren. This is MacLennan’s sixth production with Drury Lane, following The Secret Garden, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Mikado, Into the Woods and Spamalot. Clearly, he knows the space inside and out which has been a particular asset this time around, as the New Street venue undergoes a major overhaul.
“[It] would be similar to a family living in a home while it is being renovated,” MacLennan explains. “This obviously comes with its challenges when rehearsing in a construction zone. But even with that anxiety, the cast and crew have forged ahead and we have put together a terrific production.”
Most know Legally Blonde as the 2001 comedy starring Reese Witherspoon. The film and its lead were both nominated for Golden Globes, and Witherspoon won the 2002 MTV Movie Award for Best Female Performance. The musical opened on Broadway in 2007 with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin.
It received over a half dozen Tony Nominations and nearly a dozen Drama Desk Awards. It was also nominated for five Olivier Awards, winning three including Best New Musical, after it opened on London’s West End in 2010.
Drury Lane Theatrical Productions specializes in high spirited musical theatre, producing three regular shows and a Christmas pantomime each season. Legally Blonde fits the bill, quite literally, but Michael MacLennan says that mounting this musical made sense on a number of levels. “This show has a large female cast. Considering the lack of males who audition for community theatre, it was a wise choice,” he notes. But Legally Blonde has far more than that. “It is a contemporary show with a strong, independent female lead.”
“With our current social shift towards equality, finding productions that speak to female empowerment is important.”
“I like the fact that Elle is an unlikely feminist heroine,” MacLennan adds. “When we first meet this character we judge her as a stereotype, using her looks to her advantage. We soon learn that she is a force to be reckoned with.” The show is also ‘unbelievably fun.’
Like the film, the musical sees Elle Woods on a mission to win back her boyfriend Warner after he dumps her instead of proposing as she assumed he would. Following him to Harvard, she charms her way into law school. A bubbly, pink fish out of water, Elle has her detractors but gradually gains allies, and begins to see herself and her potential in a new way.
“[The] show is deceiving, much like the character of Elle. On the outside, it appears to be a light fluffy musical. In fact, the music is very complex. The lyrics are smart and, for the most part, advance the storyline,” MacLennan explains. “There is a great deal of choreography which had to be taught in a very short rehearsal period.”
Michelle Wagman concurs. “This role is very tough, and so much stamina is required to sing, dance and act the entire show.” Still, she credits MacLennan for crafting a really ‘stellar’ production: “Once it starts, you really don’t have time to think about it until it’s over!”
To prepare for Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon shadowed sorority girls, shoppers at Neiman Marcus, and law school students. At Drury Lane, the lead actor and director were impacted by the film in very different ways.
“I love the movie, and Reese Witherspoon is iconic in this role!” Michelle Wagman says. “I try not to copy anything that she does, but instead let it inspire me. She has created the perfect ‘Elle’ that is a combination of vulnerable and strong.”
For Michael MacLennan, it was a conscious decision to bypass the Hollywood version. “Actually, I purposely did not watch the movie, and to this day have not seen it, not even YouTube clips,” he admits. “I wanted the script and the music to dictate what I presented on the stage and not the film. I have seen productions of the musical and if there was any inspiration, it would have been through that.”
“After we open,” MacLennan concedes, “perhaps I will finally sit down and watch it.” V
Drury Lane Theatrical Productions
November 1-2, 8-9, 14-16,
21-23 & 28-30, 8 PM
Nov. 10, 17 & 24, 2 PM (Matinees)
Adult: $30; Senior*: $25;
Student**: $25; Child**: $15
*Senior price available on
Opening Night & Thursdays
**Students: 18 & under; Child: 12 & under
2269 New Street, Burlington
Box office: (905) 637 - 3979