WH: Hello and welcome to TL Life: Crosscurrent. I’m your host, Will Howarth.
In this episode we’ll be hearing an original song with a twisted theme from second year composer Inès Murer and we’ll hear an invitation to London’s first Open Your Mind Festival from second year contemporary dancer Kim Chi Le.
But first I’m going to take you to Laurie Grove where I saw the first full run of the third year Musical Theatre production of Legally Blonde The Musical which will be performed at Stratford Circus Arts Centre this FRI 25 & SAT 26 MAY at 14.30 and 19.30 both days.
Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions, I’m unable to play you the recordings I took of the run. However, I’ve got round this by putting them in reverse which gives a flavour of how the show sounds as well as being rather intriguing in its own right. This is Legally Blonde The Musical, in reverse.
Interview: Legally Blonde The Musical Cast and Creative, Part One
WH: We’ve just finished the first run of Legally Blonde [The Musical] with the third year Musical Theatre students. I’ve got with me –
BF: – Barney Fritz playing Professor Callahan –
NG: – Nicky Griffiths the choreographer –
ET: – and Eleanor Turner playing Elle Woods. Legally Blonde is basically all about Elle Woods and why she’s going to Harvard Law School. Elle is a very typical Californian girl. She’s grown up in that kind of world and Harvard is very the opposite to that. So when she gets there she is very much the odd one out.
It starts and she’s completely in love with her boyfriend, Warner. She thinks he’s going to propose; it’s all really exciting. And then it doesn’t quite go that way and she ends up following him to Harvard but actually finding that she’s a very good lawyer and that the one thing you need to love is yourself. And by finding that she then falls for someone who actually loves her for the inside and out.
NG: It is just the most joyful, fun, uplifting, heart-warming story about a girl that everyone thinks is one thing and she turns the story on its head and she proves to everyone that she’s something else. And in a funny way it’s sort of the opposite of what you expect might happen. We’ve had all those old films like – what was the Freddie Prinze Jr. movie? She’s All That! – where it’s often traditionally the slightly dorky, geeky girl that suddenly becomes beautiful.
And I just love that this is the other way round. We’re all judging her for what she looks like in the other respect and she proves to everyone, “actually, I have brains and smarts too.”
WH: Ellie, you’re playing the lead, Elle. Tell us about how you’ve got into the character of Elle.
ET: I’ve seen it done a lot of times before. Sometimes people miss that, actually, she’s a very clever person. She comes across at the beginning like all funny, only about boys, not very intelligent. And I really wanted to hone in on that she’s actually just a bit naiive at first, but she’s actually a very smart woman – and get that change to be a believable one.
I’ve also really focussed in on how she genuinely does believe that people will only ever like her for how she looks. And I think it’s really clear in Act Two it’s still in her subconscious, when Callahan hits on her, and she immediately just thinks, “so you only wanted me because of how I look.” But then I think by the end she genuinely does believe that you really can love someone for the inside as well as the out.
WH: Barney, could you tell me a bit about Professor Callahan?
BF: Of course. In the original production, Professor Callahan was quite an older character and I’m only 23; I’m not grey-haired yet. (Laughing) So I kind of wanted to portray him as someone a little bit younger; a little bit more professional; a little bit more suave. So I had a look at a lot of Republican Senators and Presidential candidates – their demeanour and the way they stand and their power. And I tried to take that as much as I can into my character, and when I’m standing in a room, make sure Callahan is the one who thinks he is the most important person in the room. And everything he’s going to say, he’s been planning it his whole life.
WH: He’s quite a villainous character. Do you see yourself in him at all?
BF: There is definitely a level of confidence that has come off on me a lot. I’m walking around a little bit more with my shoulders held back, acting a little bit like a snob – method acting, some will say.
It has been quite difficult. I wouldn’t really say I’m a very authoritative person. So that’s been difficult – leading a room and hold a room. But I very much enjoy it.
WH: Nicky, where did you draw your inspiration from? What’s your source?
NG: Choreographically, this show is quite relentless. We were trying to work out if there was actually any time where there’s not music playing. So my inspiration really is the story. Everything I do is story-driven; everything has a purpose, has a meaning – there’s no step without a reason behind it. And I’ve tried to make sure that everything feels really precise, really music – so that there’s a head on every beat.
I watched the original film because we have set ours back in 2000, when the film was originally created, to reminisce what sort of steps and what sort of pop stars were around in that era. And then also, on top of that, really thinking about America; thinking about the high school cheerleader world; the sorority house and how girls present themselves; and then the world of Harvard and how Harvard law students would present themselves physically as well.
WH: How has it been rehearsing with this third year group?
NG: We have had so much fun. They’re both staring at me right now, by the way. (Laughing) We’ve had a blast in rehearsals. I struggle to know how you can’t have fun doing Legally Blonde. The third years here, they are working so hard. I cannot thank them enough. We laugh; we joke; we have a few moments of “get to it!” (Laughing) But honestly having a blast with them.
WH: Great! Any funny stories to share about rehearsals? Any screamers?
NG: Oh, I’ve just remembered a funny moment. We descended into hilarity. There’s a song called Gay or European? The two words are referenced a lot during the song so during the rehearsal process of telling people where to stand up and what they were doing involved me pointing at people and saying, “gay – European – gay – European…” (Laughing) It was quite inappropriate. Fortunately we’re all friends and we all knew I was asking people to do things on certain moments.
WH: Thank you Barney Fritz, Eleanor Turner and Nicky Griffiths. We’ll be hearing about a few more of the musical’s more controversial moments later in the podcast. Now, I’m going to hand you over to a BA2 dancer who has an unmissable opportunity to share with you.
Interview: Kim Chi Le, Open Your Mind Festival
KCL: Hi, my name is Kim Chi Le and I’m studying my second year of Contemporary Dance. And I would like to tell you about Open Your Mind Festival that is happening at Laban on 4 & 5 OCT.
WH: What is Open Your Mind Festival?
KCL: Open Your Mind Festival is an international franchise that has started from Moscow and since that has been held also in Germany, Netherlands and Japan. And this year, we are starting a new edition in London.
WH: What is the aim of the festival?
KCL: Open Your Mind is in hip-hop battle form, but instead of tradition hip-hop battles, every round has new tasks and inputs. And the aim of this festival is to open dancers’ minds – to challenge them to create something new they haven’t done ever before. So in the months running up to the festival, we are organising Open Your Mind workshops every month. And the next one we’d like to invite you to is going to be at Laban on 25 MAY in Studio 5 at 13.30 to 17.00.
For our last workshop we invited different artist. We had dancers, musicians and visual artists. Most of the tasks were about improvising together. For example, we had a task where we divided everyone into small groups of dancers. Each group had a musician. We gave them an object and the musician was supposed to play based on how the dancers were using the object. So it became an improvisation installation in the space.
We are welcoming all kinds of dancers from different backgrounds to break the traditional hip-hop battle form. Open Your Mind Festival aims for supporting different kinds of artists and bringing them together.
WH: So you’d like as many people to come along as possible. But I think you have limited space.
KCL: We do have limited space so if you are interested, you can email us through our email address, which is email@example.com , or come to talk to me, Kim Chi Le, or Emi Matsushita, who is a producer for Open Your Mind London.
We are hoping to see all of you in our next workshop session at Trinity Laban on 25 MAY. And you don’t actually have to be a dancer. You can be also a musician or an MT student. Welcome.
WH: Great, thank you very much for talking to us, Kim Chi.
KCL: Thank you.
WH: Many thanks to Kim Chi Le. Get in touch with her right away before all the places for the workshop on Saturday are snapped up.
Come with me now to Butler’s Cafe to meet a composer who draws her inspiration from the darker side of life.
Interview: Inès Murer
IM: My name is Inès Murer. I’m a second year composer, BMus. Got my guitar right there. So that’s my main instrument. And then I also love singing, playing the piano and drums, but I’ve never been professionally trained.
I guess what I really liked about Trinity Laban is that, first of all, it was a conservatoire which was doing more than music. And then when I had my interview for composition, I could see that the Head of Composition, Dominic Murcott, was really trying to understand me – not judge me in any way; just trying to figure out who I was. And I really liked that approach.
WH: What was the first piece of music that you ever wrote?
IM: It was a song. I was thirteen. I was jamming with my guitar and just trying to speak English. It was very cringey. I’m very much someone who listens to pop/rock. Queen would be an example. But most recent artists, I really like Tash Sultana and Twenty One Pilots. But yesterday I was listening to John Cage and I’m really into jazz as well. But that’s since I’ve arrived in Trinity Laban. I’ve kind of opened up what I listen to and that definitely influences what I compose, which is why I can’t define my style of writing.
I guess for my music right now I’m very interested in not controlling everything. Or at least, my music sounding like I’m not controlling it.
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendation
WH: Inès, could you give me a Hidden Gem Listening Recommendation? This is a piece of music that you love but you think most people probably won’t have come across.
IM: I would just recommend Tash Sultana, who is a solo artist. She’s getting a lot of recognition right now – becoming more and more famous. She started with guitar; I think that’s her main instrument. She is completely insane. I went to see her perform a month ago and she just rocks the stage for two and half hours, non-stop. Indie rock, but she really has her sound world. In her last album, called Flow States, the song that you should definitely listen to is Seven. Every time I hear it, I’m just so motivated, like, “let’s go; let’s do this!”
WH: I noticed that when you release your music on Soundcloud, you don’t do it under your own name. You use a pseudonym. Why is that?
IM: I just feel like some people are born with a celebrity’s name, and I never felt that way with mine. I guess when I compose, when it’s “professional” – I’m using the air quotes because I feel like orchestral music is still seen as above songwriting – I’ll use my own name. But when it comes to my solo things, I use Bluem.
Well, I have blue eyes and blue is my favourite colour. And I was like, “M”, because Murer is my last name. And it kind of went to Bluem. And then someone told me one time, “oh Bluem, like the verb blooming, like a flower.”
When you write songs, you can be really personal. If you’re courageous enough, you can go on and talk about really deep things that you went to, like tough things.
WH: We’re going to hear one of your songs, What’s the Difference?, in the podcast. Could you tell us a bit more about it?
IM: It’s interesting because every time I play that song, I have reactions from people because in the chorus I say, “what’s the difference between you breaking my heart and me breaking your skull?” So it’s very violent. And a lot of people are like, “that is really disturbing.”
What you can say in songs can be really truthful and very vulnerable because you’re just putting yourself out there. This song is kind of that. And I’m not saying I had a horrible break-up, just crying, and the words just came out. That’s not what happened. But at the same time, I kind of like putting myself in those situations.
For first year, I had Soosan Lolavar for my composition teacher. And then she just told me, “I notice that you’re very inspired by dark stuff.” The theme is usually kind of twisted. I am really interested by that subject because there’s more to say.
Yeah, but What’s the Difference? Is just one of those songs that I found the courage to record by myself and put online and then I had really positive comments.
This is Inès Murer and you’re going to listen to What’s the Difference? By Bluem.
Finally for this episode of TL Life: Crosscurrent, we return to our MT Harvard hopefuls in New Cross to discuss the gender politics of Legally Blonde The Musical.
Interview: Legally Blonde The Musical Cast and Creative, Part Two
ET: Definitely being double-cast. We’re not off on our other nights, so we do have another track. And I still get more nervous on my off-track than when I’m playing Elle because I’m like, “oh my god, I’ve got to move a chair.” (Laughing) That’s a challenge.
Another challenge is just stamina because even though she’s not doing loads of dancing or anything, it is a big show and she never really leaves the stage. So it’s like, just got to start now, and you know you’re not going to come off until the interval and then you’re not going to come off until the end of the show.
BF: I think the biggest challenge for me with this character is I’m very much a big feminist. So, playing a guy in the early 2000s where these kinds of sexual harassment claims weren’t taken seriously and the position of power that Callahan has – I mentioned he hits on Elle and makes a move on her, but I think this isn’t the first time that Callahan has tried to do this. And Elle calls him out.
WH: I was quite struck that she calls him out in a courtroom and nothing more is made of it.
BF: Yeah, that is very interesting. And that shows to me the sudden switch of power that Elle, representing the women, has over Callahan, representing the men who have abused this power.
WH: It’s a twelve-year-old show. How is it relevant to today?
BF: This show is all about girl power and it’s all about proving people wrong – the preconceptions we have of blondes and women – and putting them in these positions of authority and of power. And especially with things like the #metoo movement, it’s really relevant to showcase women as powerful individuals. Not just powerful women; powerful individuals.
WH: So, you’ve just said that women should be represented as powerful individuals. My take-away from the show is that Elle is a woman entering a man’s world as a woman, but that she remains very much a woman.
ET: I think she has so much faith in herself that she doesn’t feel the need to change anything. She knows in herself that she is strong enough to stand there and she knows she doesn’t need to change for anyone and she’s not going to, so they either listen or she’s not doing it. That’s what’s so charming about the whole show – because she can just be her and still win a case and be a lawyer.
WH: If you had the opportunity to re-write the show, what would you change to update it for 2019?
BF: I don’t think there’s a lot I would change, to be honest. I saw the show in the West End in 2011 and fell in love with it. And it remains my third favourite musical. There is just nothing about it I would change. The music is phenomenal. It’s funky and it’s groovy and it’s so well-written. The storyline is perfect. It isn’t bland. It’s so much going on. There are so many characters in it. That’s the thing we’ve discovered with the show – that all of the ensemble members have so much to do. We all have individual characters. It really showcases all of us, so I personally don’t think I would change anything. Maybe add in the occasional iPhone instead of a Motorola Razor. (Laughing)
NG: I’m in agreement with Barney. To update it, there would perhaps be subtle changes to the storyline. But I still think that the story is so relevant today. There’s nothing about the story that feels like it doesn’t fit with the world that we’re trying to encourage; about female empowerment and women being who they choose to be. And I think Elle sort of represents that.
ET: We’re big fans. We like the show. (Laughing)
WH: Very last question for you. What is your favourite song?
BF: As I mentioned before with the music being really funky, the beats are very syncopated. So there’s a lot of pushing on the rhythms. But the only song that is so laid back is the interlude to Kyle the Magnificent, (laughing) which is the UPS deliveryman’s specific motif; which is one of the best funky songs in musical theatre ever, I think. I love it so much.
WH: I found it very funny, too.
ET: I think my favourite song is Take It Like a Man which, if I was listening to the recording, I wouldn’t be like, “ooh, that’s my favourite song”. But I feel like that’s her moment of, “oh, you can look amazing and have an amazing heart.” And that’s what changes her. So I think it’s that one because I feel like that has the most weight for her.
NG: And I’d probably go for Gay or European. (Laughing) It’s just the wittiest song; so well-written, it’s virtually impossible to stage that badly. Very clever.
WH: Well, thank you very much for your time, all of you. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Don’t forget to book your ticket for Legally Blonde The Musical from the Trinity Laban What’s On page. I must admit that, having been initially sceptical about the show, its immaculate score, its engaging characters and the commitment and enthusiasm of the cast totally won me over and I am glad to recommend it.
And with that, the time has arrived to bid you adieu.