Penn Singers’ production of Legally Blonde kicks off Friday night. The Tony Award-nominated musical is based on the 2001 smash hit film starring Reese Witherspoon. After sorority sister Elle Woods, played by Sarah Middough C’14, gets dumped by her snobby boyfriend Warner, played by Vincent Sanchez-Gomez C’13, she packs up her dog Bruiser and follows Warner to Harvard Law School. Elle finds her way and eventually realizes that she’s so much better than the “dumb blonde” that everyone pegged her to be.
With opening night in less than 24 hours, Penn Singers is getting serious about costumes. Luckily, Trevor Pierce C’14, the multi-talented costume director/musical director for the production, is on hand. Trevor believes that no one should be left alone to dress and accessorize. Between pinning cheerleader costumes, finding purses, and adjusting tweed jackets, Trevor found the time to give The WALK an inside look at the costume department. There, we stumbled upon the star of the show. While she was not busy being fitted for Elle’s infamous bunny costume, Sarah shared her take on what it takes to be legally blonde.
The WALK: Are the costumes for this production inspired more by the Broadway musical or by the film?
Trevor Pierce: Definitely more by the musical. We discovered that it was done on Broadway the way it was done for a reason. I modeled the designs from the original Broadway show.
WALK: Where did you get the costumes?
TP: Since the show mostly takes place in a school, it was easy to ask people to bring in their own pieces. I also rented some pieces from different costume companies around the country, constructed some things, and did a lot of online shopping!
WALK: About how many costumes are you using in the production?
TP: Over 150. Most characters have between two and six costumes, but Elle has fourteen.
WALK: What is the hardest part about being a costume director?
TP: Just staying on track and being able to wrap your head around all of the things that are going on at the same time. The job of costume director is my Penn Singers board position, but I’m also the musical director for this show. Pulling double duty and having to keep track of the entire show in your head is definitely the hardest part. Also, finding esoteric pieces, like Elle’s pink lawyer suit, is tough.
WALK: Do you have any costume department assistants?
TP: Yes. Anaïz Ortiz C’14 is the Assistant Costume Director. A couple of performing members volunteered to be on the team as well.
WALK: How long have you been involved with Penn Singers?
TP: I joined first semester freshman year. I came to Penn knowing that I wanted to do theater. I did the PennArts pre-orientation program. A couple of the leaders from the PennArts program were involved with Singers and helped get me interested. Before I knew it, I was hooked!
WALK: Do you want to pursue costume design in the future?
TP: I don’t know… I do it as a hobby now. Musical direction and acting are what I’m really passionate about. I got hooked in high school, and it spilled over into college. I have worked with other theater companies at Penn as well, but the shows are never as extensive.
WALK: Is there a system for organizing the costumes?
TP: When I started out, I tried to organize things by character or by style, like putting all the jackets together. But then you get to fittings and the costumes seem to be all over the place. The system is far from perfect. After we moved into the theater space, I was able to really organize things.
WALK: Will a half loop stitch on China Silk really pucker?
TP: Yes, if there is a catch in it and you pull the thread. Elle knows what she’s talking about. She really knows a lot about fashion!
WALK: Are those blonde locks your natural hair?
Sarah Middough: No, I actually had to dye it. The salon lightened it to a strawberry blonde, and then they highlighted it. I’m actually going back to get it touched up because the roots are already growing in. I had an irrational fear of my hair falling out since I have naturally dark hair, but it all worked out.
WALK: Now that you’ve had the chance to be brunette and blonde, do blondes really have more fun?
SM: During midterms, no. But otherwise, that might hold up!
WALK: What’s your favorite costume that you wear in the show?
SM: I’m really excited for the dress that Elle wears when she thinks that Warner is going to propose to her. That is also the dress that Elle is most excited for in the show.
TP: A friend of mine who did costumes with me in high school is driving down from Connecticut to help out. She personally made that dress.
WALK: Do you have any difficult costume changes?
SM: I have many! It is not so much that they are difficult, but they are very quick changes.
TP: Take for example, Elle’s Playboy Bunny costume. She has a little bit of time to get into the costume, but she has to change out of it in the middle of a song. The hard part is she has to keep talking while she is changing out of it into her next costume.
WALK: Do you have to dance in heels?
SM: Yes! Dancing in heels for this show is more difficult than in other shows that I have done. Since the heel is skinny it makes it difficult to keep your balance. But thankfully, I don’t have to dance in my highest heels. It is certainly a challenge, but it’s really not that bad.
WALK: If you could trade closets with any character on the show, who would it be?
SM: There is so much pink in this show. It is really funny since Trevor is asking a lot of us to pull from our own closets, and I own zero pink. I would probably trade closets with Paulette, played by Genna Garofalo C’15. Paulette’s closet is full of fun patterns. Everything is really big, flowy, and comfortable. Paulette is a crazy character with a crazy wardrobe to match her personality.
WALK: Has playing Elle Woods impacted your personal style in any way?
SM: (Laughs) I would have to say no overall. In rehearsal I was a little more attentive to what I was wearing. I’m a sweatpants and sweatshirt kind of girl. I tried to wear jeans and tighter tops to rehearsal. I wanted to get used to moving in tighter clothing. Although, this plan kind of fell by the wayside as the semester got going. But, I do appreciate pink more. Elle does have some great shoes.
WALK: Which pair of Elle’s shoes is your favorite?
SM: The hot pink Steve Madden heels. I’m buying them after the show. They are surprisingly comfortable.
WALK: What is your favorite role that you’ve played?
TP: (Whispers) This one because you hated it before.
SM: I do love this one! I also loved playing Belle from Beauty and the Beast when I was in high school. I’ve totally changed my opinion about this show. Before, I didn’t really get it, but now I really love it. Elle is very different from me in everyday life but this is why it is fun to play her.
SM: Absolutely not! That is one important thing that I learned from Elle Woods. Pink is irreplaceable.
– Augusta Greenbaum
Photography by Jeremy Benson