Several students who participated in the musical were unsettled by the stereotypes present in the songs and script. Although the musical focused on Elle Woods and her evolution from being self-centered to self-sufficient, other stereotypes, specifically those focused on race and sexuality, made students feel uncomfortable.
Maimonis cut parts of the original script that included scenes she did not find appropriate, as she wanted everyone to feel accepted. She said she was unaware that students still remained uncomfortable throughout the rehearsal process.
“I told (the cast) from the jump to always come talk to me if (they) want to talk about a role or line of dialogue. I changed a lot of lyrics to be more inclusive and body-positive. I don’t want anyone to think that my intentions are different from what they were. Honestly, I feel a lot more sad that students didn’t feel they could bring this up with me than any article being published. I did my best to make everyone feel comfortable and allow them to portray every character in their own way, without any preconceived stereotypes,” Maimonis said.
X, Y and Z said Maimonis told them near the start of the rehearsal process not to ask about making changes in the musical.
“It’s difficult for an actor to say that they’re uncomfortable with something, especially when explicitly told not to at the beginning of the process,” said X.
X also said the Performing Arts Program’s unofficial rule, that dropping out of a show will impact their casting in the next performing arts production, caused cast members to feel obligated to perform uncomfortable scenes.
“She’s told us this rule, which is less of a rule than a tactic to get kids to behave, many times: something most directors do. It kind of insinuates that if someone were to speak out, then that could jeopardize their standing in a future production. But more so, with such a big cast it made it hard to talk to her,” X said.
Maimonis confirmed that the rule does exist.
“That rule does apply to the musical, even though it’s technically not Drama Society. I’ve never come across that issue though,” said Maimonis.
But X said that power dynamic between a director and student made it hard for cast members to speak up.
“There have been a lot of instances in which either I or other people in the cast have felt like something was tone-deaf, insensitive and not a good choice. There’s just not really the space made to address it. It’s more like we just have to trust that (Maimonis) handles it, but if she doesn’t, then we can’t do anything about it. People of color are assigned these roles (Jamaican stereotypes), and it’s hard to speak up about discomfort when it’s a director-student relationship,” X said.
Senior Camryn Lezama, who played Paulette’s ex-husband Dewey, said Maimonis was in a complicated situation.
“People were complaining about being typecast. As a director, I have an idea of how stressful it is, so I think that (Maimonis) did the most she could. I think there should be a balance in a show like ‘Legally Blonde’… how can we change it and fix it?” Lezama asked.
Maimonis said her casting process is very complex and takes into consideration many different factors.
“There’s a fine line between whitewashing a production and type casting and I would never want to do either. I really try to find a balance of staying true to certain cultural things if they’re appropriate while also giving everybody equal opportunity in the cast, regardless of race or sexuality. I take in consideration talent, behavior, attitude and all sorts of things,” Maimonis said.