BEMIDJI -- "Legally Blonde,” the fall musical to be performed at Bemidji High School next week, takes some cast members out of their comfort zones.

“This role has been very challenging to me,” said senior Brita Aas, who played lead character Elle Woods. “I’ve had to do a lot of different things that I’m maybe not comfortable with as Brita, but I have to do as Elle. She’s more scandalous than I normally am.”

Elle was portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in the 2001 movie by the same title.

Although the play is considered suitable for PG-13 audiences because of some language and adult themes, director Holly Nelson said the overriding message of “Legally Blonde” is positive and quite timely.

“It’s got some themes that are a little bit more mature than what we have tackled before,” Nelson said. “But the whole message is you are not defined by a stereotype. In our current climate I cannot think of a better message to send to kids.”

There are 83 students involved in the musical, including 40 in the cast and 15 in the pit orchestra.

“It’s every bit as engaging and upbeat and as positive a story as it can be,” Nelson said. “We have some voices that have really developed in musical theater style, and just continue to grow each year. As our program is growing it’s very exciting to see kids come along and we can offer challenges pieces.”

This is the fifth musical for Aas, who plans to attend Minnesota State University Mankato next year to pursue a degree in elementary education. Her first role was teenage Fiona in “Shrek” as an eighth grader. She also performed in “Anything Goes” as a freshman, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” as a sophomore and “Seussical the Musical” as a junior.

“It has been fun to watch Brita grow,” Nelson said. “We’ve had the real delight of watching her blossom and gain skill and confidence. She models the hard work of the show, she models taking care of yourself and making sure that you’re making healthy decisions. She’s just a delightful kid who treats everybody well. The leadership in that results in a group of kids who treat each other well, and I don’t think it gets better than that.”

Two of the male leads also have had to step out of their comfort zones, Nelson said.

Senior Jonah Furhman, who plays Emmett Forrest, and Noah Paulson, who plays Warner Huntington III, are both mastering challenging roles. Paulson’s character is Elle’s muse and the reason she goes to Harvard. He does not treat women very well. Furhman’s character is a graduate student who mentors Elle and eventually falls in love with her.

“Both of the roles are very challenging,” Nelson said. “I’m glad to say that’s not who they are.”

Furhman also has been in every musical since eighth grade. “It’s a really fun show,” he said. “Not like we’ve done before.”

Paulson made his fall musical debut last year as the mayor’s son in “Seussical,” and says that experience has been helpful this time around. “It’s a lot less stressful,” he said. “I feel a lot more in the know. I’ve been a lot more laid back with things and not so uptight about everything.”

Despite the experienced lead performers, the large cast includes quite a few younger students, and Aas says it has been a joy to watch everyone come together as opening night approaches.

“We have a very young cast this year,” she said, “so just watching them develop has been great, even the older cast members as well. We have a lot of talented singers and dancers in the show this year.”

If you go:

What: "Legally Blonde"

When: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Nov. 7-8, and 1:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9

Where: Bemidji High School Auditorium

Tickets: Adults $7, students $4. Available online at bemidji.k12.mn.us or at the door

Note: Play is considered suitable for PG-13 audiences