Pinkifying Parramatta with Packemin! A chat with Legally Blonde director Jessica Fallico

A bubbly blonde has strutted into Riverside Theatre, and is bend-and-snapping audiences silly. Legally Blonde opened last week to rave reviews, and it’s hard to argue how this fabulous tale of girl-power would not thrill adults and children alike.

Initially a 2001 novel-turned-film, Legally Blonde is a hilarious subversion of the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype, and is still a well-loved teen comedy. This resulted in a 2007 stage adaptation with music by Laurence O’Keefe (Heathers, Bat Boy) and Nell Benjamin (Mean Girls), and book by Heather Hach (The 2003 remake of Freaky Friday). A true display of sisterhood and sticking to your guns, the show is a lot deeper than it may appear on the surface. Plus… there are dogs! Real dogs!

Packemin Productions are known for their huge, ensemble-filled shows, and this one is no exception. A 2 hour spectacle packed with skipping, sass and seriousness, Legally Blonde is not one to miss. Director Jessica Fallico and I had a chat about how the production is going, and just why you should catch it before it closes.

Legally Blonde director Jessica Fallico

Tell me a little about yourself and your history with Packemin!

I’ve been in the arts for many years. I started out acting and always thoroughly enjoyed creating new characters and delving into story. I’m a Speech and Drama teacher and found through my work that I was enjoying writing and directing as a side venture which unravelled into an entirely new passion and brought me here. I have worked as an assistant director and co-director with other companies but my directing experience has been predominately with Packemin. I’ve worked with Packemin for the last two years. I first became involved with the company on their production of ‘Wicked’ in 2016 when I answered a call out for an assistant director. It was such a rewarding experience—the company, the show, everything I learnt—I was hooked. After that, they couldn’t get rid of me! I rolled onto their next production of Cats, which was a youth production, then onto Miss Saigon. I was delighted when I was given the opportunity to Co-Direct their production of Shrek and to now be directing Legally Blonde. The creative team at Packemin are sensational and the cast are eternally committed and wonderfully talented.

How is this show different from others you have directed?

Legally Blonde is the first time I’ve directed something of this scale solo. Before this I had only co-directed which is an entirely different kettle of fish. Co-directing is a tricky balance–you have a lot of liberty to spit-ball and brainstorm together but there are also compromises that must be made when you’re collaborating. Directing Legally Blonde has been a huge learning experience for me and so invaluable. What is distinctly different in this experience is that the creative team is predominately female. The Director, Assistant Director, Choreographer, Assistant Choreographer, Costume, Props, and Make-Up are all female, which has been such a delight working with so many strong, creative women, especially on a show like Legally Blonde which is all about empowering women and owning who you are.

Paulette Belafonte (Jocelyn O’Brien) and Elle Woods (Mikayla Williams)

Legally Blonde is a well loved film, but was written in the early 2000s. Why do you think it is still relevant today?

Legally Blonde is still SO relevant! There’s nothing about this musical that feels dated and all of the issues are still current. I know some may view this show thinking it’s full of fluff and pink however, it’s anything but. It’s such an empowering, female driven story. When the whole world is screaming about women’s rights, equality and #metoo Legally Blonde is echoing the sentiment. Elle is a woman who is driven and determined. She’s confident and owns who she is from the outset but she redefines herself and discovers that she is more capable than she ever thought possible. The story is about owning who you are, embracing your femininity and not judging a book by its cover. These are all messages that woman and young girls in particular need to have reinforced within our society.

The girls of Delta Nu

Are you going to try anything different with this production?

I don’t think you have to do things differently to create a good production. I very much come from a place of being mindful of the story and doing everything you can to justify the heart of the narrative to make it sing. There’s a lot of detail I’ve tried to layer in to give certain moments, or characters, truth and clarity. Whether it’s collaboration with cast, choreography, or lighting I think if you understand the intent of the work you’ll find points of difference naturally without having to force them.

The concept of exclusivity is quite widespread throughout the plot. How have you avoided this spreading to the cast?

Totally. Packemin is in essence community theatre and there’s always a great sense of community and camaraderie amongst our cast members. Everyone carpools to the theatre and rehearsals and always hang back chatting afterwards. True friendships are created through Packemin—we wouldn’t have such a dedicated group of cast members if it was any other way.

Jessica and Rufus

The show is super energetic (especially “Whipped into Shape”!) – what’s your favourite way to pep up the cast before a rehearsal?

A vocal and physical warm up is always a must to get them both energised and focused. And a good pep talk is important—I always talk to the cast about mindfulness, to remind them to be present on stage and that the audience is seeing the show for the first time, so to put everything they’ve got into their performance. I’m very big on intention in performance and I’m always reminding them of this. Most importantly they need to know that the work they are doing is special and worthwhile, which this production of Legally Blonde is, audiences are loving it and they need to be reminded that what they have created together is something unique and wonderful.

Legally Blonde is currently playing at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta until August 11, 2018. For more information and tickets visit: RiversideParramatta.com.au

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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