When Erich DiCenzo came to Fairfax High as its theater director, 10 years ago, there were two shows he especially wanted to do, “9 to 5” and “Legally Blonde.” He did “9 to 5” in 2013; and now – as head of the school’s Musical Theatre & Actor’s Studio – he’s directing its upcoming production of “Legally Blonde, the Musical.”
“I’ve always loved big, flashy musicals with strong messages,” said DiCenzo. “’Legally Blonde’ is the perfect amount of camp while, at the same time, having depth and relevance in today’s world.”
Featuring a cast and crew of about 45, the story follows college student Elle Woods. She’s determined to win back her boyfriend who got accepted to Harvard and then broke up with her because, in his eyes, she wasn’t a serious person. She then attends Harvard, herself, to become a lawyer and prove him wrong; but ultimately, she discovers her own inner strength and worth without him.
The curtain rises Friday-Saturday, Feb. 3-4, at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 5, at 2 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, Feb. 9-10, at 7 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 11, at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door or $12 via https //mtasacademy.weebly.com. Information about joining the Academy is also at that Website.
“I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to work with students from each of our Fairfax County high schools who come here with a passion and talent that spans beyond their years,” said DiCenzo. “Their commitment to their craft, and their work ethic, are sure to make this production a standout. And we hope it’ll shed more light on the Academy’s Musical Theatre & Actor’s Studio.”
Portraying Elle is Centreville High senior Katie Wood. “She’s a vibrant, bubbly, strong and independent woman,” said Wood. “Initially, she wants to get her boyfriend back, but she later learns to trust that she can be her own person and doesn’t need a man to define her.
“It’s truly an explorative and thrilling role to play. Her brightness and journey to self-fulfillment inspire me to follow my own passion of a career in musical theater. And the joy of playing the lead is feeling the support from my fellow cast members.”
Wood’s favorite song is “What You Want,” sung by nearly the entire cast. “It’s a huge, ensemble number about Elle formulating her plan to go to Harvard,” she said. “She’s singing it with her best friends, and then she tells the Harvard admissions people why she should be accepted. And she does it with a parade, instead of a written essay.”
Wood said the audience will love “how passionate all the characters are and how unique their character portrayals come across. It’s a feel-good show that will hopefully inspire others like it inspires me.”
Fairfax High senior Jimmy Houck plays Prof. Callahan. “He has his law students help him defend a case in court,” said Houck. “They’re his intern team and help him do the prep work, and Elle and other main characters are part of the team. He’s uptight, stoic, mean, cruel and insensitive – but also witty. He’s just teaching to get ahead and takes pleasure in his students’ suffering.”
Houck enjoys showing new angles of the professor. “I get to be cruel and mean in a funny way, which people don’t usually do,” he said. “I love acting and playing a big, stereotypical character so different from myself.”
He especially likes the song, “Blood in the Water,” which he sings to introduce the professor to the audience on the first day of class at Harvard Law. “It’s not like all the other happy, pop-type songs in the show,” said Houck. “It’s more of a ballad and is dark and brooding.”
He said the audience “is going to be blown away by the dancing and choreography. It’s sharp, synchronized and in-your-face. And people will also love all the characters’ funny, offbeat lines. I really think this show will be one to remember.”
Cassidy Loria, an Oakton High junior, is an ensemble member who plays several small roles, including a member of Elle’s Delta Nu sorority. “We’re there for Elle on her journey,” she said. Loria also portrays the store manager in the opening song, “Oh My God, You Guys.”
In that number, Loria sells Elle’s engagement dress to her, after a store clerk tried to make Elle buy a boring, inferior dress. “This has become a cult-classic, iconic role in this show that’s very memorable,” she said. “So it’s exciting to add to that legacy.”
As for the musical, itself, said Loria, “It’s such a big, fun, energetic production that it’s never dull. It’s a girl-power show, and it’s special to watch a group of girls supporting each other.”
Portraying Margo, one of Elle’s best friends, is Chantilly High junior Eva Jaber. “She’s a little ditzy and a typical sorority girl, but there’s more to her than meets the eye,” said Jaber. “She cares a lot about her friends, and there’s power in their unpredictability. You wouldn’t expect people who present as shallow to actually achieve so much.”
Calling it a fun part, Jaber said, “It’s exciting to have a role that plays to stereotypes, but cool to have the challenge to give depth to this character that people wouldn’t ordinarily expect in this flashy show.” Her favorite number is “So Much Better,” sung by Elle. “Musically, it’s an amazing end to act one,” said Jaber. “In a show about chasing a man, this song is Elle realizing that she’s so much more than that and doesn’t have to depend on anyone.”
Thrilled to be at the Fairfax Academy, Jaber said, “I always wanted to improve my dancing, and some friends had come here in the past and really loved it. They especially liked its workshops that give students individual attention and meet them at their particular talent level.”
In addition, she explained, “There’s no class like this in Fairfax County that builds such a supportive community. They build everyone up and celebrate their individual successes. And in such a competitive industry, having a space like that – where we can get together and work toward a common goal as one – is so powerful and is unique to this program.”
It's no wonder then that DiCenzo is eager for the community to see his young thespians in action in this upcoming musical. “I’m excited to share the caliber of professionalism the students bring to the stage,” he said. “We hope audiences will leave saying, ‘I can’t believe those were high-school students.’”