Legally Blonde Jr.

Legally Blonde Jr.The path to success, let alone love, is sometimes difficult. The trick is to find your own way. Starting October 26, Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre (DMYAT) presents Legally Blonde Jr. Based on the movie and the hugely successful Broadway show, the path of heroine Elle Woods is both an inspiration and an affirmation for many of the young women involved in the show.

Legally Opposites

Morgan AlaimoMorgan Alaimo plays Elle, who initially heads for Harvard Law School to try to win back her boyfriend Warner. Morgan sees parallels in her voyage into musical theatre. “Elle’s journey is a unique one” says Alaimo. “She goes into law for all the wrong reasons, but ends up loving and staying for all the right ones, which is something I think just about everyone can relate to. After not landing a role my freshman year, I threw myself into Speech. But instead of using it as just a pastime until I could be on stage, I actually loved it. I'm continuing it even as I am in this show. I think the moral of Legally Blonde is that when you put your mind to something you can finish, but the way to succeed is to find a passion or determination other than just ‘because’. Give a goal meaning and watch it become more achievable.”

Alaimo has always been a musical theatre fan, and she landed her first role in DMYAT’s production of High School Musical a few years ago. “I remember the stress of auditioning and the new experiences I had to face. But I also remember the overwhelming amount of support from everyone involved. Everyone was so inclusive and worked with me one-on-one to make me a better actress. DMYAT is one of the many reasons behind me wanting to continue acting professionally. My piece of advice is take a risk and audition! Everyone has to start somewhere and the only way to improve is to be involved. I love working with younger casts because the growth of everyone (including myself) throughout the entire process is so inspiring.”

Kaylee ReiningaAnother actress from that production of High School Musical plays Elle’s nominal rival in Legally Blonde Jr. As Vivienne, Kaylee Reininga is Warner’s girlfriend at Harvard, portraying the more serious woman Warner feels he should have as he aims for a political career. But it’s not the first time Reininga has been on the opposite side of the heroine’s journey, having played Amber in this summer’s DMYAT production of Hairspray Jr.

“I would very much say that being the antagonist is extremely fun,” says Reininga, “but it’s hard to be mean and keep the audience liking you. Because of this with Vivienne, I remember that she really isn’t a mean person. She is just defending what’s hers, which is Warner. I also remember that any girl would act this way if someone was trying to steal their boyfriend!! So I play Vivienne with that in mind, so she is more likable in the audience’s eyes.”

Legally Directing

Over its decade of existence, DMYAT has dedicated itself to both creating opportunities for fledgling artists just starting out, and developing youth as they grow in the theatre craft. The director for Legally Blonde Jr. is Haley Melz, and she has plenty of experience in theatre (having worked as Assistant Director and/or Assistant Choreographer on DMYAT shows in the past). But this is her first time at DMYAT where she’s in charge, so once again it’s about finding your way.

Haley Melz“It has been an amazing experience to work with DMYAT over the past couple of years, and this show is no different! I was able to learn so much from Megan Helmers over the past few shows, and I truly don't think I would be directing and choreographing if it wasn't for her. Something that was crucial to learn when working with School of Rock and Bring It On, and that has helped guide me with Legally Blonde, is how to work with and blend the talents of such a diverse cast.”

“Each artist comes to us with a different skill level, background, and personality. This cast alone has students from the age of 8-18. We have students who have done many shows, and students who are experiencing theatre for the first time with us. We have actors with two legs, and we have actors with four legs. Overall, it has been such an amazing experience to watch each artist grow. Some grow as actors, others grow as people—and those are my favorite transformations to watch.”

Legally Inspiring

Stella Webster Jump Rope

As transformations go, it would be hard to top the journey of actress Stella Webster. She’s playing the part of the fitness expert Brooke Wyndham, whom Elle is helping to defend in court. Her character has to be in top shape (and has to sing and jump rope at the same time, no less!) But Webster’s own personal journey has been a considerable effort to get back to this point.

Webster tells the tale. “When I was 11, I was diagnosed with congenital scoliosis. At this time, I was competing in many sports, such as swimming, softball, volleyball, dance, horseback riding, and tennis. I had done one show before, and had always loved to dance and sing so much. I wanted to do more.”

“But, as my spine progressively got worse with my growth, the pain became unbearable while doing pretty much anything too active. I went from doing six sports to zero over time. I also had to get a back brace my 7th grade year, which is already one of the most insecure years a kid goes through. Adding a brace to my middle school experience was definitely very humbling. I couldn't slouch, or bend over to tie my shoes, or go to gym class.”

Stella Girls Rock

Webster did her best to remain positive. “One thing that I could still do was sing. Singing was something I had control over. It wasn't something I was forced into quitting. Girls Rock Des Moines really helped me still feel like I had power over my own body and mind. They gave me so many opportunities to perform, and to meet amazing performers around the area, and to have a really safe place where I could be completely myself. When I was performing, no matter my struggles, I was invincible. I could make it anything I wanted. I had complete control. I could never describe the feeling of getting off the stage after a performance.”

The worst part of the journey was still ahead. “Then came the surgery, during which they deflated one of my lungs. Coming out of the surgery, I lost 25 pounds (I was 100 to begin with making me 85 pounds and 5'5"). I couldn't breathe very well. They had me on oxygen for many days after the surgery. I had breathing exercises I had to do to try and re-inflate my lung. All I could think about was singing. Could I still sing? I was so angry. My spine had taken EVERYTHING away from me. And now this? The one thing I still had control over. I was so mad.”

“But I turned that negative energy into getting my strength back. I wouldn't let this define me. I wouldn't let this stop me from becoming what I wanted to be or at least trying my very hardest. I fought for my body back and I fought for my voice back. I had to re-learn how to WALK and BREATHE after my surgery. I would have never thought I would be where I am today. And yes, it still hurts. But I welcome the pain now. It reminds me of the screws in my spine and I am so, so thankful for those screws. They don't define me, but they helped make me who I am. And I'm pretty dang proud of who I am.”

Elle and Bruiser“Now, singing and jumping rope at the same time has already proven to be very difficult, but I'm pushing through and I know by the show I'll have it down. I'm so excited to show the audience, even if they don't know my whole story. Just with my performance, that it is possible to overcome any struggle you face.”

Sounds a bit like the kind of advice you’d get from Elle Woods, and the fantastic youth involved in this show. DMYAT presents Legally Blonde Jr. from October 26 through November 4 at the Stoner Studio Theatre in the Civic Center. Tickets are available (but going fast!) either online through the DMYAT website or from the Civic Center box office. And don’t forget, since this is the first show of DMYAT’s new season, that season tickets are also available from them as well. Make your own journey and find your way to go see Legally Blonde Jr. opening next weekend!

Des Moines Young Artists' Theatre Haley Melz Stella Webster Morgan Alaimo Kaylee Reininga