Chloe Torrence circled a group of actors and singers onstage at the Charity Randall Theatre, kicking off her normal weeknight routine.
“Starting tonight, you cannot call ‘line’ anymore,” Torrence said. “We start tech rehearsals soon, so you should know your lines by now.”
The junior theatre arts and music major then started warm-ups for the group. They danced and stretched to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and shared how they were feeling about rehearsal that evening. Most of the performers were exhausted from the week of rehearsals and ready to go home, while others were excited and motivated.
The group kicked off one of its final rehearsals a week ago for the Musical Theatre Club’s production of “Legally Blonde” — opening Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Charity Randall Theatre under the direction of Torrence.
Torrence took on the responsibility of directing a Musical Theatre Club production after directing other Pitt productions, such as “Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck!” MTC shows receive little to no assistance from Pitt’s theatre arts department and are funded by donations from production audiences and arts advocates. The club does not even charge for tickets.
“With MTC, we don’t have any faculty help. So not only am I running rehearsals, helping to do all the blocking and all of the character work, I am also helping to build all of the sets,” Torrence said.
Torrence and Brooke Stearns, the show’s vocal director and a sophomore communication and theatre arts student, worked together to make the set building challenge a bit easier.
“We took pieces from other shows that they would have thrown away anyhow and made them useful for us,” Torrence said. “The cast has been a great help as well. They are here for four hours every night, and some of them still stay late to help put sets together.”
Stearns said vocally directing “Legally Blonde” has been one of the biggest challenges she has taken on at Pitt, but she has enjoyed the process of seeing the whole show come together after beginning rehearsals in February.
“Everyone in the cast is very enthusiastic, and they have been great to work with, but it has been difficult to get the vocals of a 40-person cast to be cohesive,” Stearns said. “After rehearsing six days per week, I think we have pulled everything together.”
Though Torrence and Stearns have taken on large responsibilities, they’re far from alone in their ventures to create a good show with the cast. There are additional directors, a choreographer, assistant choreographer, a state manager and designers — all student positions.
The show stars Emily Cooper, a junior media and professional communication major, as Elle Woods and first-year marketing major Patrick Meyer as Emmett Forrest.
“Emily is a hard worker and amazing performer,” Stearns said “Her and our Emmett work really well together both on stage and vocally.”
Cooper trades in her wired glasses for a pair of strappy pink high-heeled shoes when she heads to the stage to embody the iconic Elle Woods. The young actress is no stranger to the stage after performing in multiple Pitt productions, such as Pitt Stages shows “Parade” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” She is also a 2015 graduate of the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School as a musical theater major.
Despite her experience on stage, Cooper had reservations about taking on the lead role and appearing in every scene of “Legally Blonde.”
“I did a lot of work to prepare for this character. Playing someone so different from me was challenging but also fun,” Cooper said.
She approached the massive personality of Elle Woods by creating a character backstory about Elle’s life growing up and searching through the script’s text for implications about her personality. Self-identifying as a “theater nerd,” Cooper found unlikely parallels between herself and the pink-loving fashionista.
“The thing that I have always related to the most with Elle is that she leads with kindness, always, no matter what she does,” she said. “Elle Woods is a better person than all of us — she spreads so much love, positivity and strength and determination. Why wouldn’t you want to live every day like this girl does?”
Cooper felt it was important to bring some of her own quirkiness into her portrayal of Elle Woods, a character who is often stereotyped as a materialistic, ditzy sorority girl.
“It was very much a shock when I found out I was going to play Elle. I was immediately like, ‘OK, how am I going to rectify me being who I am and this character being who she is,’” Cooper said.
Her approach to this juxtaposition of character was to set aside the typical views of Elle and bring a more realistic person to the stage, one with hints of Cooper herself scattered throughout Elle’s character arc.
“She is a human being. You can’t play someone based off of the stereotypes around them,” Cooper said. “If this is Elle Woods and I’m playing Elle Woods, then that means she’s going to have to be a little goofy sometimes.”
As the Pitt Orchestra rehearses the notes to “Whipped Into Shape” with the singers on stage, more and more pink pops up on the sets. Most of Cooper’s costumes feature the show’s signature color, but MTC’s take on this show is not focused on the bright, feminine costumes.
Cooper said the thing she appreciates most while acting in a show run entirely by students is the freedom the cast and crew have to insert their own style and messages. MTC made the story its own by humanizing the characters — showing the entertaining but also meaningful sides of Elle Woods and her Delta Nus.
“This show has become so much more than just sorority girls singing,” Cooper said. “It’s pink and fluffy and happy — but it’s also important, and you can be all of those things.”