Following its Broadway premiere in 2007, Legally Blonde received seven Tony Award nominations. In 2010, its first London production walked away with three Olivier Awards. And then in 2013, the original Australian production (led by Lucy Durack) picked up five Helpmann Awards, including the Best Musical prize.
For its latest offering at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres, Packemin Productions has taken on Legally Blonde. Based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the 2001 MGM film (starring Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods), the production plays until next Saturday 11 August.
Playing Elle Woods in Packemin’s Legally Blonde is up-and-coming singer/songwriter Mikayla Williams.
“It’s an incredible role and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to do it,” Williams tells Theatre People. “It’s so nice to have such a strong female lead character to play.
Williams’ own history with Packemin dates back to the company’s 2013 production of Hairspray, which starred Jon English, Wayne Scott Kermond and Cle Morgan. She played the role of Penny Pingleton.
Since that time, the Australian Institute of Music graduate (whose credits include the role of Maryssa on ABC TV’s multi-award-winning series Dance Academy) has returned to Packemin to play Glinda in Wicked and, more recently, Princess Fiona in the 2018 staging of Shrek The Musical.
“It’s such a family,” Williams says of the Packemin experience. “We go to rehearsals, we work hard and then we socialise after and make heaps of friends. It’s a really good environment to learn about the industry because its [productions are] of really high quality … I love being able to have fun as well as be professional and put on a great show.”
But this isn’t the first time Williams has played the role of Elle – she took on the role in Free Rain Theatre Company’s Canberra premiere production of Legally Blonde in 2014.
“I’d actually forgotten how challenging it was,” she says. ““It’s a massive sing, I’m barely off stage and when I am, I’m doing a quick-change. There’s lots of dancing and there’s lifting, I have to be really strong and fit … It’s really demanding.”
Williams pinpoints what it is she enjoys specifically about Legally Blonde’s stage iteration.
“We get much more depth, I think, with Elle in the stage production and we see her relationships a lot closer,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to see the development and the journey more closely in the stage production … She’s got a huge journey.”
Asked to single out her favourite number from the production, Williams says it’s Act Two’s ‘Take it Like a Man’.
“Emmett has helped Elle study and believe in herself and her ability, and then it’s her time to give back to Emmett,” she says. “I think this is really when their relationship starts to shift and change.”
She describes Legally Blonde as an uplifting and empowering piece and refers to its integral messages about not judging a book by its cover and believing in yourself.
“I think it’s really powerful to see Elle being such a strong woman,” Williams adds.
Playing Emmett, Elle’s romantic interest, is Kyle Sapsford, also an AIMS graduate who first appeared in a Packemin show as Corny Collins in Hairspray. Among his professional credits is the role of Stevens in Dogfight at Hayes Theatre Co, for which he worked with Packemin’s Neil Goodings.
“I first started working with Neil back when I was at the Australian Institute of Music,” he says. “Neil was a tutor there. He would come in and teach some of our performing studies classes and do some master classes.”
Like Williams, Sapsford speaks highly of the Packemin experience and its mix of high production values and a strongly positive environment.
“Most of the people are just there because they love theatre … and it’s really got a community feel about it,” he says. “There are a lot of people who … love Packemin like it’s their baby.”
Sapsford speaks to the broad appeal of Legally Blonde.
“It’s suited to anyone and everyone,” he says.
On what it is he enjoys most about Legally Blonde in musical form, Sapsford says that, more than anything, it’s a lot of fun.
“Obviously, the film is fun, but when I saw the show, I was a little sceptical going to see it because you see the film, the film’s so popular and you’re thinking it’s going to be a situation where they’ve capitalised on that and turned it into a gimmicky kind of thing, but it’s really its own beast. The songs are … really well crafted and they’re bloody funny.”
He adds: “I think people go there expecting to see something along the lines of the film and they get a whole lot more. It’s its own unique experience.”
LEGALLY BLONDE – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Riverside Theatres
Dates: Playing now until Saturday 11 August, 2018