Story Analysis- Legally Blonde The Musical

I love Legally Blonde the Musical. It’s fun. It’s boppy and it’s structure is tight y’all. Like, it squeaks when it walks.

The Broadway pro-shot as my comfort musical. For those who don’t know the premise of Legally Blonde it is Malibu Barbie goes to Harvard Law School. Cue the fish out of water scenes. But it’s so much more. Legally Blonde is for everyone who was ever told you’re not smart enough, you don’t belong.

I view the story as a series of plans that Elle views to reach her goal. Each time her plans changes, the location changes and so does Elle’s costume. Inside the overarching plans are try-fail cycles.

Our story begins in the oridinary world of our protagnist Elle Woods. The opening musical number is “Omigod You Guys” and that number does a lot of work. It sets up Elle’s world, expectations of that world (to marry) and how Elle’s sorority sisters love her. A theme throughout Legally Blonde is sisterhood. It is also establishes that Elle is smart. When a sales lady tries to overcharge Elle for a dress, Elle cross examines her. Elle. Cross examines her.

The last scene of the musical is a direct call back to the first musical number.

What most writing books call “inciting incident”, I’m trying out the phrase “disruption” or when things go sideways. Elle thinks her boyfriend is going to propose. He instead dumps her because he’s going off to Harvard Law and wants someone “Serious.”

So. Elle’s plan is to convince Warner that she’s serious and worthy of being proposed to by getting into Harvard Law School. And now, we’re off to the races.

Here’s the breakdown:

  1. The Plan- Try-Fail Cycle – Push and Pull
    1. Plan – Marry Warner – Setting College
      1. Establishing Scene – Sorority sisters wishing Elle well on her date. She assume she’s going to be proposed to.
      2. Disruption- He dumps her instead of proposing because she’s not serious. – The Jolt out of her normal life.
    2. Plan – Convince Warner she’s worthy of being engaged by geting into Harvard Law. Cue Elle’s “I Want” song which is literally called “What You Want.” Writing books will tell you your protagnoist needs a plan to achieve their goals. Elle sings her plan in the song. As in – Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3. Let us pause for a moment how they were able to get away with that…
      1. Failure – LSAT score is not initially high enough so she sacrifices her senior spring to study with Kate.
      2. Win – She gets a 175.
      3. Failure – The committee doesn’t want to allow her in.
      4. New Plan – She shows up with a marching band and the admission committee accepts her.
    3. Plan -Impress Warner at Harvard that she’s serious. – Setting Harvard. She’s still in pink, but it’s pink in a classic Chanel inspired blazer.
      1. Failure. He has a girlfriend named Vivian and she gets kicked out her first day of class for being unprepared.
      2. New Plan – Become a brunette, change to get the attention of Warner.
      3. Failure – Paulette the hairdresser says no Paulette has her introductory song “Ireland” about her being unlucky in love and how her ex took her dog. Paulette .and tells Elle to fight for Warner.
        1. “Ireland” is Paulette’s “I Want” song. It’s one of my favorite songs in a musical because it’s sad and funny. It, like the rest of the songs in this musical, does a lot of work. But, I know that Paulette is going to get everything she’s yearning for in her song because…well…this is a musical and that’s how it works.
      4. New plan – Go to the party Vivian invited her to. (Even Ray Charles can see that Elle is being set up.)
      5. Failure – She’s in a Playboy Bunny costume. Everyone else is wearing normal clothes. She’s leaves, heartbroken. Emmett (love interest) finds her upset on a bench and wants to help her because he’s from a working class background and his Harvard peers laughed at him too when he was in school “Chip on My Shoulder.” (Okay. Emmett is helping Elle not because she’s beautiful and that is the first time that has ever happened.that’s when she picks up Emmett.
      6. New plan. Succeed at law school. Study with Emmett. She gives up vacations to study. This is a callback to her giving up her senior spring to study for the LSAT. It is established that Elle is a hardworker. This is where I start to like Emmett because he gives her a combination shampoo/conditioner so she can save time in the shower to study. It’s such a sweet, nerdy thing to do.
      7. Win. She does well in class. She helps Paulette get her dog back. She’s starting to see that the law can help people and that’s something she’s interested in. Earlier it’s played for a joke that Elle started a charity called “Shop for a Cause,” but let’s sit on this for a minute – Elle started a non-profit and was president of a majority sorirty which means she possibily oversaw hundreds of thousands of dollars. Strip what it’s tied to – like her 4.0 in fashion merchandising and you start to see how capable she is:
        1. President of a major student organization (sorority)
        2. Founder of a non-profit (Shop for a Cause)
        3. 4.0 GPA (fashion merchanising)
      8. Fail. Warner proposes to Vivian. This is the big one. She’s only at Harvard for Warner and now he’s engaged to someone else, but…
      9. Win. She gets the coveted internship and it’s “So Much Better” than what she had with Warner.
    4. New Goal – Succeed on internship. Impress Callahan – the lawyer in charge. New Setting – Law Firm. Elle is in navy blue with pink pinstripes.
      1. Fail. She changes the way she dresses, but no one listens to her.
      2. Win. The client, Brooke, confides in her because they belong to the same sorority and makes a breakthrough contribution to the team.
      3. Fail. Callahan hits on her. She thought she was selected because she was smart, but it was only because she was a “dumb blonde.”
      4. Dark Moment. Elle is going to leave and she sings about going back home to the person she was before. When she tells Emmett that some girls are just meant to smile andshe’s describing herself? Heartbreaking, y’all. She goes to tell Paulette she’s leaving.
      5. Vivian follows her to the hair salon – the same place she initially set Elle up with the lie about the costume party – to tell her that Vivian was wrong about Elle. This is a difference from the movie and I like it. It also plays into the sisterhood theme. Vivian has Elle’s navy suit.
    5. New plan. Be true to herself .
      1. Before, she was trying to impress other people. Now she’s confident and is back in her signature pink. – Court room.
      2. Win – She’s got her Harvard friends. Her sorority sisters come from California to support Elle in her trial. Turns out the UPS guy is of Irish heritage and there’s a Riverdance segment. Repeat. There’s a Riverdance segment. Elle wins the trial.
      3. She graduates top of her class and proposes to Emmett who promptly goes into a reprise of Omigod.

Fluffy perfection. You can try to argue with me. You would be wrong.

Copyright © 2022 Irette Y. Patterson

About Irette Y Patterson

Irette Y Patterson is a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and romance. She has been published in FIYAH, Strange Horizons, Translunar Travelers Lounge and on the website of The Saturday Evening Post. When not writing, you can find her digging around in her garden or catching the latest musical in the theater.
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