Remember when I wrote about how we can sometimes track a musical’s primary story through its utilization of a conventional two-act structure, specifically the self-dubbed Act One Fake-Out Anthem?
To jog your memory, an Act One Fake-Out Anthem is when the closing number of Act One seems to resolve the story’s main problem, but the incomplete nature of this resolution keys in attentive audiences to the drama left to be concluded in Act Two.
On the docket today: the most underrated Broadway musical of the century, Legally Blonde.
Charting Elle’s relationship to her chosen attire reflects the trajectory of her character arc.
When the opening song begins, she’s nowhere to be found, because she’s busy picking what engagement outfit to wear to her assumed proposal to come. The eventual absence of that proposal launches her arc: to win back her man. Her textbook “I Want” song — aptly titled “What You Want” — is triggered by her realization that she needs to become his sort of broad, “someone who wears black when nobody’s dead.” She decides to infiltrate his world to prove she belongs with him.
The ending of Act One seems to indicate her success; the rousing anthem “So Much Better” builds to the final verse: “I’ll even dress in black and white.”
So, mission accomplished, she’s now his sort of broad, Act Two will simply chronicle him falling back in love with her.
Which it does; but if that was the whole point, it’d be a boring fucking Act of predictable inevitability.
Elle — and the audience listening to the lyrics — have a major lesson still to learn: fuck dressing for anyone except yourself. Note how her “I Want” song is entirely on his terms: “What You Want.” She, and thus we, might think the lead story is her convincing Warren to love her again, which is how Act One sets up her arc. But Act Two subverts these expectations; the real climax is when she finds the confidence to dress in all-pink as a lawyer; yes, she’s technically mastered his world, but now it’s her world, with the garb to match.
All she had to do was say yes to her dress.