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Leave ‘Illegally Blonde’ Alone: Theater Kids Deserve Space to Struggle

By Michelle Liu
By Vivienne N. Germain, Crimson Staff Writer

In the words of Konstantin Stanislavski and almost every annoying drama teacher, “there are no small parts, only small actors.” Possibly inspired by this concept, a teenage girl cast in a bit part (Salesgirl #2) tried to energize her character by barking the line “Courtney, take your break!” with melodramatic intensity and a sharp edge. Her delivery was comically atrocious — and after a recorded clip of it reached the internet, it became a public joke.

The “Courtney, take your break” meme originated from a YouTube video featuring a community youth group’s rendition of “Omigod You Guys,” the opening number of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” It’s a mess: Preteens and teenagers struggle to stay on pitch, fail to reach high notes, bumble through simple choreography, miss cues, forget lyrics, and make feeble acting choices. The video, uploaded multiple times with various titles including “Illegally Blonde,” rose to popularity as a laughingstock and a farce. It continues to circulate after half a decade, recently regaining attention on TikTok. Millions of viewers laugh at the spectacle and share vicious commentary online, and their mockery is not only mean; it’s destructive. Children deserve the space to perform plays and musicals — well or poorly — without being subjected to ridicule.

Based on the 2001 novel and the romantic comedy film of the same name, “Legally Blonde: The Musical” premiered in San Francisco and opened on Broadway in 2007. Despite initial mixed reviews, “Legally Blonde” is a remarkable work of theater with bright music, clever lyrics, and a funny book. The musical matches the film’s buoyant energy and exceeds the film’s artistic quality. When performed successfully, “Legally Blonde” thrills audiences, which makes the rough scene captured in “Illegally Blonde” feel glaringly awful.

The “Illegally Blonde” kids are not alone in their shortcomings. “Legally Blonde,” a demanding show, is a common selection for secondary schools, summer camps, and community youth groups. Their attempts at the musical usually fall flat due to dull and flimsy acting, weak and shaky singing, lame and clumsy dancing, uncomfortable stage kisses, and distracting lyric changes — like an awkward switch from “look at my ass” to “look at my abs” in “Bend and Snap,” a fan-favorite song that has nothing to do with abdominal muscles. These issues often ruin the show, but they are typical in children’s theater. The “Illegally Blonde” kids’ unsuccessful performance is not unusual.

However, the “Illegally Blonde” kids are uniquely exposed to derision from adult strangers due to the digital permanence of their opening number. Some viewers relate to the kids and sympathize with their efforts, but most viewers delight in making fun of their failures. A well-known version of the video, published five years ago in September 2018 and titled “Illegally Blonde: For Your Consideration,” is peppered with notes that read “oof the chord,” “they all gave like 68% of their all,” “whore,” and “1-800-273-8255,” the former national suicide prevention hotline number. The comment section displays cruel remarks like “they sound like dying walrus especially the girl in the purple shirt.” Ultimately, “For Your Consideration” bullies kids and enables viewers to do the same.

While the “Illegally Blonde” performance of “Omigod You Guys” is hilariously disastrous — similar to performances in viral videos like “Illegal Hamilton” and “Illegal Heathers,” which emulate the “Illegally Blonde” joke — its amusing nature and low quality do not justify its receipt of widespread mockery. Adults should not ridicule children in any setting, due to the inherent power imbalance in age difference, the perceived credibility of a grown-up voice, and the sensitive impressionability of a young mind — but adults should especially avoid ridiculing children for trying theater.

Theater serves children well. When they participate in plays and musicals, wonderful or terrible, they test unfamiliar territory, dedicate hours of hard work, develop useful skills, muster the courage to face an audience, care about the process and the product, build confidence, embrace creativity, have fun, and feel proud of their efforts. Many of them cringe with embarrassment when reflecting on their terrible musicals years later, but they cherish the memories. Through theater, kids learn and grow while enjoying the arts.

Most children are not gifted actors, but all of them deserve a chance to take the stage. Bullying children for bad performances deters them from pursuing new experiences, which denies them the rewards. It also undermines the inclusive and exploratory spirit of the arts. Kids benefit from self-expression and experimentation, which are the aims of recreational youth theater and the arts in general. They should be able to take advantage of these opportunities without risking exposure to public hate and humiliation.

The unkind statements about “Illegally Blonde” are not limited to the “For Your Consideration” commentary. A video by content creator Kevin Lynch, “WORST Legally Blonde Musical Production EVER!” includes bitter words from Lynch (such as “it’s like The Helen Keller School for the Arts”) and brutal responses from viewers (such as “actively resisting homicidal thoughts”). Adults also ridicule “Illegally Blonde” on other YouTube videos, TikTok, BuzzFeed, X (formerly known as Twitter), and personal blogs. Even worse, the mockery extends beyond individuals with small platforms. The award-winning NBC sketch-comedy show “Saturday Night Live” created a parody of “Illegally Blonde,” making fun of the kids’ performances onstage and their presumed lives backstage. In the digital short, former SNL cast member Aidy Bryant’s character asks, “Can middle school productions win Tonys?” before falling off the stage — only one of many jokes made at the children’s expense.

Through reaction videos, social media posts, and mainstream television content, adults make fun of “Illegally Blonde” for personal gain. They deride an amateur youth musical in the pursuit of short-term amusement, internet clout, and monetary profit, lacking apparent concern for the children’s emotions and self-image. Adults should find ways to uplift themselves without crushing kids. Laughs, likes, and loot are valuable, but not as valuable as a child’s confidence.

To the bullies’ credit and the performers’ defense, “Legally Blonde” is an ill-advised choice for children’s theater. Despite telling a fun story, the musical is an ambitious undertaking. The Act One finale, “So Much Better,” requires powerful vocals with high-energy movement, exhausting the actor before she ends the song with a notoriously difficult high sustained belted note. Act Two opens with “Whipped into Shape,” a number that requires strong vocals while jump-roping the entire time. Additionally, the ensemble must learn complicated dance choreography, the orchestra must handle exceptionally challenging music, and the tech team must manage numerous costume and set changes. “Legally Blonde” also involves suggestive themes — characters allege a sexual affair, imitate an orgasm, and describe a UPS courier as “walking porn” — which indicates that the show is not meant for kids.

Considering the difficulty of “Legally Blonde,” audiences should approach youth performances of it with kindness and understanding. They should appreciate the kids’ work and remain supportive of their endeavors. By desiring a professional-grade performance from neighborhood preteens, adults impose detrimental pressure on them, contributing to the harmful culture of burdening children with expectations of constant excellence and perfection. They damage kids’ development and well-being. Amateur theater should be a means for kids to escape stress, rather than a contributor to it.

The adults sneering about the mediocre costumes in “Illegally Blonde” should remember fishing through decades-old, ill-fitting clothes in the back of their public school’s low-budget arts department closet. Adults mocking the production’s laughably fake dog barks should remember the ways their teachers cut corners to ensure that youth soccer teams, science bowls, and debate clubs could function despite lacking access to extensive resources. Most importantly, adults ridiculing the performers should remember what their lives were like as insecure thirteen-year-olds trying their best to navigate adolescence.

At least one impressive Broadway actor butchered lines in an unimpressive summer camp production of “Almost, Maine,” and more than one average guy threw up onstage in a below-average children’s church group production of “The Music Man.” That’s okay. Not every kid is a star, but every kid deserves the freedom to play and the freedom to flop.

—Staff writer Vivienne N. Germain can be reached at vivienne.germain@thecrimson.com.

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