Illinois Student Musicals make ‘orange the new pink’ for Legally Blonde production


James Hoeck

Lucy Economos, senior in LAS, performs at the rehearsal for “Legally Blonde” in Lincoln Hall on Wednesday. Economos and other members from the production talk about their involvement and enthusiasm for the musical.

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

As the sun went down on the rainy Wednesday evening across campus, the stage lights and soundboards lit up in Lincoln Hall’s auditorium as the Illini Student Musical group began a dress rehearsal for “Legally Blonde,” the musical set to entertain students and community members alike this weekend. 

The familiar frantic energy behind the scenes of theatre returned as if the prior two years of dusty auditoriums never occurred. Not a second was wasted as props and costumes were arranged, makeup applied and the stage lights turned on. The empty rehearsal seats were no excuse, commitment and stage presence were in full force for the production’s enthusiast cast. 

Emma Mize, junior in FAA, is the co-director and core artistic lead of “Legally Blonde.” Mize described the plot of the colorful and energetic student musical adaption of the Reese Witherspoon 2000’s classic movie, calling the main character a “girl boss” for battling the “dumb blonde” stereotype.

“It’s about the original girl boss, Elle Woods, and her journey finding her boyfriend that just broke up with her,” Mize said. “He goes to Harvard Law, and she decides she’s going to get in there too.”

Mize said the musical has major potential for attracting a substantial audience since Moms Weekend falls on the same days as the performance dates of “Legally Blonde.” Mize is right, for the show is sold out both Friday and Saturday night with less than 50 tickets available for the Sunday matinee.

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The cast hurried around the cramped green room of Lincoln Hall’s basement. In a fine-tailored suit worn by the snarky character, Professor Callahan was Evan Neilson, senior in LAS, who plays the character. Neilson described why the 2001 film was perfect for ISM and students from all backgrounds. 

“I think it’s a show everyone needs to see right now,” Neilson said. “It’s so full of joy and everyone’s hyping each other up. Except for my character, everyone needs that negative force to create a positive environment. I’m the foil to that.” 

Neilson said the production experienced a rough time in late January when snow days halted campus operations in the early half of the spring semester. But despite those circumstances, the musical pulled through, and the cast and crew were relieved the show could go on. 

The titular character, Elle Woods, is played by Lucy Economos, senior in LAS and vice president of ISM. Economos feels enthusiasm and support for her fellow cast members. 

“There’s so many parts and so many ways people can be included,” Economos said. “Everyone gets their moment to shine — moment to show what they can do. So many feature dance parts for the cast members who are really strong in dance. It’s such a perfect Moms Weekend show.” 

Further above the green room, another performance was underway in a dark room that oversees the stage as several producers and technicians readied the mics and checked the speakers before the production. Daniel Owen, senior in Engineering, acts as producer and production-resource manager, takes on a logistical role in the magic act of hiding the many intricacies of stage performance. In his sound booth, he described the behind-the-scenes process. 

“I manage the technical staff, I help them with all aspects of sound and lighting,” Owen said. “I also oversee all of the production. I do the logistics work, I book the venue, and I’m at a lot of the rehearsals just to help out.” 

Owen also said he is blown away by the amount of talent within the cast, citing “Legally Blonde” as one of the best shows he’s seen ISM pull off. 

Behind the curtains and make-shift stage walls, a dozen readily equipped stagehands hurried about the complex juggling act of curtain calls and prop distribution. Micky Horstman, junior in LAS and an assistant choreographer, has done four productions with ISM. Despite the differing academic background, Horstman is happy to be back in an environment he grew up loving. 

“I used to do a lot of theatre at a youth theatre company in my hometown,” Horstman said. “I steered away from theater when I moved to Champaign-Urbana to do political science for my major. My theater background was more of the performance side, not so much the directing side, so I’m super excited to be helping behind the scenes, helping with choreography and making sure the dancers look good.” 

Co-director Ethan Fazio, junior in Media, sat overlooking the readying stage about to pull curtains.  Fazio gave insight into ISM’s mission for theatre kids on campus and his hope for an entertaining show this weekend. He said he wants students of all majors and backgrounds to participate in University shows.

“We want to give people an opportunity, not just those in the performing arts department, for their desire in performing arts to be in musical productions here at the (University),” Fazio said. “To do high-level theater, people leave high school thinking ‘Man I’m never getting to do this again,’” Fazio said. “We really help deliver that opportunity to our students and members here, and we’re really proud about that.”


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