How The 'Legally Blonde' Movie & Musical Differ

by Kaitlin Reilly

It's hard not to adore Elle Woods. The blonde, bubbly California girl bounced into our hearts in the 2001 film Legally Blonde, and there she has remained for a whopping 15 years. The story of a woman determined to make her actions speak louder than her looks should resonate with anyone who has felt underestimated — even if the problem wasn't ones all-pink ensembles or platinum hair. It's no wonder feminist icon Elle's story was woven into Legally Blonde: The Musical — though there are plenty of differences between Legally Blonde 's movie and musical, the inspiring message is still strong as ever.

For the uninitiated (seriously, how/why haven't you seen this movie yet?!) Legally Blonde is about former sorority president Elle who gets emotionally punched in the gut when her boyfriend, the "old money" Warner Huntington III, dumps her in favor of his more "serious" brunette ex-girlfriend, Vivienne. Determined to win back his heart, Elle heads for Harvard Law School, but while there realizes that she has a lot more to offer the world than being Warner's wife. The musical (which this Legally Blonde-obsessed writer went to see twice when it was on Broadway, and watched countless times after DVRing its MTV airing) starts with the same premise, but isn't an exact retelling of the movie. Save for the music (duh!), here are the major changes the musical made to the movie that you may have missed:

1. Elle's Admissions Video Is Replaced With A Dance Number

In the movie, Elle makes a video essay to get into Harvard, which shows off her "lawyerly" skills like remembering what happened on Days Of Our Lives and arguing for softer toilet paper in her sorority house. In the musical, Elle's essay is replaced with a song and dance number in the Harvard admission's office.

2. Professor Callahan Kicks Elle Out Of Class, Not Professor Stromwell

In the movie, Professor Callahan generally seems to respect Elle — until the moment when he hits on her, temporarily shattering Elle's belief in herself as a future lawyer. Professor Stromwell holds Elle up to a higher standard, and even kicks her out of class in the beginning of the film when she doesn't do her reading assignment. In the musical, Callahan is the one who kicks Elle out of class, and, sadly, the amazing Stromwell (who ends up being Elle's mentor) is cut from the musical entirely. It's one of my least favorite parts of the musical, as Stromwell was a strong female authority figure that helped Elle realize she was on her way to being an excellent lawyer no matter what Callahan said.

3. Warner Proposes To Vivienne In Front Of Elle

In the movie, Warner and Vivienne get engaged sometime between his breakup with Elle and the beginning of law school. However, in the musical, Warner's engagement is doubly hurtful, as he does so in front of Elle after both him and Vivienne land the coveted internship at Callahan's law firm. Fortunately, Elle isn't sad for long, because it turns out that her name is also on the internship list.

4. The Bend And Snap Is What Convinces Elle The Witness Is Gay

In the Legally Blonde film, the pool boy who states he is having an affair with Brooke, Elle's client, sasses Elle at the water fountain by criticizing her "last season" Prada shoes. It's this moment that convinces Elle he's actually gay, and lying about his affair. In the musical, Elle breaks out the "bend and snap" for Nikos, and when he doesn't drool over Elle's signature move, she realizes he must be gay. It's all done through a particularly funny song called "Gay Or European," which ends in Nikos announcing that he, in fact, is both.

5. Emmett Helps Elle With Her Epiphany

In the movie, Elle's epiphany — that she should actually try to excel in law school for herself, and not Warner — comes about after Warner insults her. Elle realizes that Warner is a jerk, and decides to do something to prove her worth. In the musical, it's Emmett, Elle's soon-to-be love interest, who tells her that she needs to actually start applying herself (via song, of course.) Personally, I prefer the version where Elle realizes she has the grit it takes to succeed at Harvard on her own, but Emmett's song, "Chip On My Shoulder," could inspire anyone.

6. Vivienne Takes Elle's Side Against Callahan Immediately

Professor Callahan is way more sinister in the musical than in the film. In the movie, Vivienne witnesses Callahan putting his hand on Elle's leg, but turns away before Elle pushes him off. In the musical, Vivienne sees Callahan forcibly kiss Elle, and her slap him — but her ex-boyfriend, Warner, turns away before seeing the latter. Vivienne realizes that she has to stick up for Elle, and convinces her to stay in the game despite the scummy Callahan. In this way, Vivienne takes over for the sadly missing Stromwell, who gives Elle a confidence boost in the movie after the disheartening incident with her professor.

7. Paulette Is Obsessed With Ireland

Though Jennifer Coolidge totally killed it as manicurist Paulette in the movie, the Paulette in the musical is given a quirkier personality. For one thing, she's obsessed with the country Ireland, and likes to play music from the land whenever she's sad. (Like in the movie, Paulette marries the UPS guy — who also happens to be Irish!)

8. Elle Refuses Warner's Proposal Gently

In the movie, Elle shoots Warner's declaration of love down with a cutting, badass line: "If I'm going to make partner by the time I'm 30, I need a boyfriend who isn't such a butthead." In the musical, Elle goes the classier route, and gently declines Warner's proposal with a "thank you, but no" and a song about finding her own way. Personally, I'd rather the musical have stuck to the former.

9. The Courtroom Scene Is Far More Theatrical

Not surprisingly, the Legally Blonde musical cranks up the theatrics of Elle's courtroom scene. Though Elle uses the same legal strategy (every Cosmo girl knows that you can't get a perm wet!) in the musical, Elle takes the entire courtroom into the bathroom with her to prove that Chutney was lying about being in the shower at the time of her father's murder. Snaps for creativity, Elle.

10. Warner Becomes A Model

At the end of Legally Blonde, Warner graduates from Harvard without any job offers and without a girlfriend. In the musical, he takes a different path — he ditches law school altogether and becomes a model instead!

11. Elle Proposes To Emmett

We never see a proposal in the Legally Blonde film, only an epilogue at the bottom of the screen that say that Emmett is proposing to Elle on the night of her graduation. Legally Blonde: The Musical sticks to its feminist theme and puts Elle in charge of her own future — she's the one who asks Emmett to marry her during her valedictorian speech.

Both the movie and musical have their own merits, but no matter which one you prefer, both are sure to tug at your heartstrings and remind you that being the best version of yourself is still the most important thing — no matter what people think of it.

Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer