The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Programs in Theater and Music Theater at Princeton University will present Legally Blonde, The Musical on November 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17 at 8:00 p.m. at the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place. In this non-traditionally cast version of the hit Broadway musical based on the film of the same name, audiences are invited to explore a world in which Elle, a woman of color, must navigate a new environment in her pursuit of love as she leaves her hometown and heads to Harvard Law School. The production is directed by senior Tamia Goodman and features seniors Will Alvarado and Jasmeene Burton with senior Alexandra Palocz as lighting designer and music direction by Vince di Mura.
The four seniors proposed the project as their senior thesis work in pursuit of certificates in the Program in Theater for a number of reasons. At its heart they see the show as a story of acceptance that challenges social stereotypes.
Burton, who discovered theater in her first year at Princeton, was looking for a musical role that would provide a performance challenge and the opportunity to produce a show. She was not finding a large number of leading roles for actors of color in the musical canon nor shows that told more diverse stories in the Princeton campus community. She was familiar with the musical version of Legally Blonde and considered the question of whether the lead role of Elle Woods, in addition to being blonde, could also be read as a woman of color. She has performed with a number of student theater groups on campus, as well as worked on props, set and costume design, and in stage management. These myriad experiences in theater production led Burton to set her sights on student-producing the show, in addition to acting. “A show of this size certainly needs all hands on deck,” she said. “It helped over the summer for the student proposal team to have someone facilitating communications with the designers and the Program in Theater. It’s been great to be another resource checking in with the cast and wrapping up logistical loose ends as the show approaches.” The Los Angeles native made her debut in the Program in Theater in a production of Hairspray in her sophomore year. Burton is majoring in sociology while pursuing a certificate in theater and is heavily involved on campus and in the community with music and mentorship for children in the arts. After graduation, she plans to pursue teaching and, ultimately, a doctoral degree in education.
Goodman, who is making her directorial debut with Legally Blonde, was originally looking for an opportunity to see a person of color take the lead in a traditionally cast show. When Burton approached her about directing Legally Blonde with non-traditional casting, Goodman thought the project would be a good opportunity to explore her interests in equity and inclusive access to the arts. This goal was one she felt a strong commitment to after a recent summer experience working with the Marketing Department at The Public Theater in New York City. She had not seen the musical before and so had no pre-conceptions of the piece. She is majoring in economics and pursuing certificates in African American studies and linguistics, in addition to theater. The Atlanta, Georgia, native has been involved, directly and indirectly, with the arts since the age of three, dancing, singing, music directing, acting, and working behind the scenes.
As she considers post-graduate plans she is interested in a number of career paths including as a theater director, real estate appraiser, wine sommelier, and roles in government.
Alvarado, who plays the role of Elle’s friend Paulette Bonafonte in another departure from traditional casting, hails from North Tonawanda, New York, and is currently a senior in the Department of Chemistry, pursuing a certificate in theater. Legally Blonde is one of his favorite musicals and he notes the project has been a joy to work on but also a challenge. “Some say it’s hard to play a character that is incredibly different than your own personality,” Alvarado said. “I believe that it’s the opposite, and a character like Paulette, which is nearly identical to how I see myself, has been a real challenge to play well.” Over his theatrical career, Alvarado has been involved in nearly every aspect of putting on a production, his favorite positions being lighting designer for last year’s Lewis Center production of Next to Normal and his dual roles of Kevin Rosario/Piragua Guy in the Princeton University Players production of In the Heights in 2017. Alvarado has spent the past four years at Princeton entrenched in the performing arts, where he has served as technical director for the student-run musical theater group Princeton University Players for three years and as treasurer and performer in Princeton’s Jewish a cappella group, Koleinu.
Palocz, who is lighting designer for the production, is a computer science major pursuing a certificate in theater. Her theatrical endeavors at Princeton have been primarily focused on student-run theater, where she has worked as a technician, designer, and board member for Theatre Intime, and has performed with Princeton University Players. In addition to working on Legally Blonde, she is currently writing Echoes in Glass, an interactive story cycle to be presented as part of the Program in Theater’s DIY Festival of solo works in April. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career at the intersection of arts and technology.
Other members of the all-undergraduate cast include senior Chris Catalan, sophomores Gus Binnie, Alexander Deland, Jr., Peter Foster, and Kirsten Keels, and first-year students Ethan Boll, Aria Buchanan, Alexandra Buzzini, Erica De Lacerda, Ahmed Farah, Violet Gautreau, Ed Horan, Claudia Humphrey, Marissa Michaels, Giscelle Rosario, and Charlotte Thiel.
The Lewis Center’s Resident Music Director and Composer Vince di Mura serves as musical director for the show. Professional designers on the production team include Lawrence Moten as set designer, Sarita Fellows as costume designer, and Matthew Fischer as sound designer. Students in production roles, in addition to Palocz and Burton, are first-year student Ines Aitsahalia as choreographer, sophomores Martin Mejia as stage manager and Amanda Koym as assistant stage manager, and junior John Nydam as rehearsal accompanist who joins sophomore Ben Alessio, senior David Exume and di Mura as the musicians for the production.
Faculty member Shariffa Ali is serving as a mentor on the project with professional lighting designer Tess James as lighting advisor.
Tickets are $12 in advance of show dates, $10 for students, and $17 purchased the day of performances at the box office. Advance tickets are available through the McCarter box office online at mccarter.org or by calling 609-258-2787 and in-person at the Frist Campus Center Ticket Office or Roth Box Office at the Lewis Arts complex.
To learn more about this event, the Programs in Theater and Music Theater, and the more than 100 other performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, and lectures presented by the Lewis Center, most of them free, visit arts.princeton.edu.