THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
New National Broadway Touring Production Proves Self-Discovery Never Goes Out of Style
Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre, From Issue 942 By: Robert E Martin
23rd February, 2023 0
The contemporary Broadway musical Legally Blonde is somewhat of a modern-day phenomenon. Based upon the entertaining yet delicately insightful novel by Amanda Brown and the 2001 film of the same name, Legally Blonde tells the story of Elle Woods – a sorority girl who enrolls at Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend; only to discover how her own knowledge of the law can serve a larger purpose and help others,
With music & lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe & Nell Benjamin and a book by Heather Hach, when the film starring Reese Witherspoon morphed into a Broadway musical in 2007 it grossed more than $1,000,000 a week on several occasions, received seven Tony nominations and ten Drama Desk nominations, yet didn’t walk away with a single trophy.
Later in September 2007, the musical was filmed and aired on MTV, which was shortly followed by a reality TV program that aired showing the audition process for the next person to play Elle on Broadway, which turned out to be actress Bailey Hanks, who won the audition played the role until the production closed in October, 2020.
Yet now nearly 22 years after the film first appeared, Legally Blonde stands as one of the most successful and beloved millennial musicals to resonate from the streets of Broadway, with a brand new national Broadway touring company bringing their infectious brand of scholastic mayhem and merriment to the stage at Midland Center for the Arts for three performances from March 31 - April 1st.
For this newest Broadway touring production, the lead role of America’s favorite blonde is being portrayed by actress Hannah Bonnett, who is making her national Broadway touring company debut. Now that she’s into her 100th performance, Hannah says assuming the lead role of Elle in this ultimate Broadway tribute to girl power and resonant coming-of-age story has literally been a dream come true.
“I’m truly a small town person from New Jersey and never thought something like this could happen to me,” she confesses. “I grew up auditioning for plays in the city, went to college for four years for a Musical Theatre degree, and was praying and hoping for a dream role like this in a national touring company, so it just goes to show that what’s meant for you really won’t pass you by. I went through a lot of hard work and a lot of ‘Nos’ and thankfully somebody said yes and now I’m having the time of my life.”
When asked how she got interested and engaged with the world of theatre says it grew out of her love for cheerleading. “I was a competitive cheerleader and all my friends started doing the musicals, o I thought maybe I would give it a try. Funny enough, I started to audition for roles and realized I was absolutely terrified because I didn’t like singing in front of people. Something about my drive to get over that fear made me fall in love with it.”
Throughout the entire production nobody has faith in Elle, but she manages to surprise them all by defying expectations while staying true to herself. As we follow the transformation of Elle Woods while she tackles stereotypes, sexism, snobbery and scandal in pursuit of her dreams, and proves, contrary to dated bias, that you can be both legally blonde AND the smartest person in the room, this latest stage incarnation touches on many current hot button social issues while delighting audiences with memorable songs and explosive dances.
Are there any specific themes ore moral lessons embedded within .the narrative of Legally Blonde that Hannah feels have caused this production to resonate so well with audiences over for over 20-years now?
“It’s funny and crazy how well Legally Blonde has withstood the test of time,” she reflects. “So many people loved the movie and it’s amazing how many people come to shows dressed up in costumes like characters from the original movie, or look out into the audience and see a bunch of bunny costumes, but that shows how much of a family thing it has become. As for why people find it so engaging, I would say it’s because of the fact it’s an underdog story, which is why its withstood the test of time. Anybody can relate to not being seen or not being heard and working hard to improve yourself and prove yourself.’
With such an iconic character that people tend to associate with portrayals they are familiar with, what does Hannah feel her biggest challenge is with filling the shoes of Elle?
“When I was preparing for this role of course I wanted to give the integrity to the role that Reese Witherspoon in the film version and Laura Bell Bundy in the first Broadway version brought to the role that everybody fell in love with, but you also want to make the role your own,” she explains. “I love it when people reach out and say, ‘Wow, this show is so modern and you’ve added all these new things that I can relate to.’ I see Elle as a real person that is special to me, so my goal with the process as to keep the integrity of the pink and glitz and the glamour, but also make her a real raw human being - so when you leave the theatre people can see themselves in my character. That’s been a real rewarding experience.”
Regarding this fresh national production, how does Hannah feel it differ from previous productions and what does she feel truly distinguishes it?
“I think our company did a great job of taking the individuality of each person in this cast and bring it to life,” she states. “All the characters are a little different and of course with a national touring production, you need to load in and out quickly, so a lot of our set consists of screens with a lot of pictures and funny images we worked hard to cultivate. The dance numbers are modern and we talk a lot about the new age of social media and the Me Too movement and things that new audiences can relate to.”
Having performed close to one hundred shows, does Hannah find the pace of touring exhausting?
“We’ll be touring for five months up until we get one week off in May, so it does take a lot of stamina and mental strength. When I talk about my job I always make a joke that it’s not for the weak, it’s for the full of heart. It’s the gratitude that keeps you going.”
“So far the reception from audiences has been really, good,” concludes Hannah. “I’ve going to places in the Midwest and Canada that I’ve never before and the play is always well received.
“What makes it special is that I feel blessed to be able to share Elle’s story and feel people walk away with a positive moment in these difficult times we find ourselves living in.”
Tickets for Legally Blonde are on sale now and start at $55. Tickets can be purchased online at midlandcenter.org, by phone at 989-631-5930, or by visiting the Center’s Box Office at 1801 W St. Andrews Rd.
For more information, visit www.BlondeOnTour.com.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)