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Department of Theatre challenges tradition with Asian lead in “Legally Blonde”

“Legally Blonde” actors Dane Morey and Cindy Tran Nguyen rehearsing a scene for the production in November. Courtesy of Jack Long

Breaking stereotypes is what “Legally Blonde” is all about.

The book-turned-film-turned-musical focuses on a California sorority girl attending Harvard Law School who attempts to maintain her sense of fashion and beauty while proving she can still be intelligent when others thought fashion didn’t translate well to grades.

Seventeen years after the film’s release, the play is still breaking down stereotypes.

Mandy Fox, associate professor of acting and directing at Ohio State, was in charge of casting for the Department of Theatre’s production of “Legally Blonde,” and instead of looking for a traditional, blonde protagonist in Elle Woods, Fox — also the director of the production — decided to take a different route.

For the upcoming production, Woods will be played by Cindy Tran Nguyen, a third-year in theater and marketing.

“We look for plays that spur discussion, and [we] support casting choices that add complexity to those discussions,” Fox said. “Theater is the ultimate collaborative art and it takes all of us and all of our glorious differences to make it happen.”

Before auditioning, Tran Nguyen, a Cleveland native, said she didn’t think she had any shot of getting the role because she was Asian.

“I remember a few weeks back, before auditions and all of that, I was sitting talking to my boyfriend, and I told him, ‘This sucks that I have no shot at being Elle,’ because I know that I can do it. But just look at me. I’ll never be given the opportunity,’” Tran Nguyen said.

Fox thought differently after Tran Nguyen’s audition.

“Cindy’s voice is incredible. She has a killer belt and an equally-moving quiet vulnerability,” Fox said. “She’s a great dancer and very, very funny. I knew she would play Elle after I heard her sing ‘So Much Better’ from the end of Act I. She was phenomenal.”

Fox said it’s important to remember the play is not called “Naturally Blonde.” Tran Nguyen echoed Fox’s sentiment explaining that aside from hair color, the script never specifies race for Elle Woods.

“The script never calls for someone who is white and naturally blonde,” Tran Nguyen said. “She just needs to be blonde and that’s why wigs are such a blessing.”

Fox said that Ohio State’s theater department celebrates diversity, and has been constantly brainstorming ways to be more inclusive in its season selection and in its Diversity Task Force committees.

The theater department puts on a musical every other fall. Past musicals have included “Heathers: The Musical” in 2016 and “City of Angels” in 2014.

Fox said “Legally Blonde” is about “claiming who you are inside, choosing who you want to be on the outside, accepting all the complexities and contradictions that might come with that and allowing others to do the same.”

The play will run Nov. 8-18 at the Thurber Theatre in the Drake Performance Center. Students can purchase tickets at the box office, located on the second floor of Drake, or by calling 614-292-2295. Tickets are $15 for students and children, $25 for adults, and $20 for seniors.

 

3 comments

  1. Figures. Asian women are trying so hard to be white this fits right in their program.

    • Hey, FOhioState, maybe shut the hell up? Thanks.
      So excited to see this show! Looks like such a talented group and very smart woman at the center of it!

    • lol Trolls are trying so hard to get attention so they can be relevant. They don’t seem to fit into the program though seeing how they’re still not relevant… Bummer. Maybe if they read the whole article next time… Lovely article btw! Hype for the show and to see Miss Tran Nguyen & the rest of the cast slayyyyy! <3

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