I first experienced Laura Bell Bundy's many talents during her run as Dainty June in the Paper Mill Playhouse's 1998 production of Gypsy, which co-starred a thrilling Betty Buckley and former pop star Deborah Gibson as, respectively, Rose and Louise. Bundy was terrific as the elder daughter who rebels against her overbearing mother, just one of a long line of roles that cast Bundy as a sassy, somewhat spoiled blonde gal, a character she seems to have perfected in her years in the theatre.
Bundy's theatrical career, however, actually began years earlier as the very young star of the 1992 Off-Broadway hit Ruthless!, but it was only recently that theatregoers began to take notice of the actress — during her turn as Amber von Tussle in the Tony-winning musical Hairspray, a role she created in the show's many workshops and eventually on Broadway. Bundy returned to Broadway last season as the standby for Kristin Chenoweth's Glinda in the hit Stephen Schwartz musical Wicked. Bundy says goodbye to the Wicked company August 8 to prepare for her one woman show, Shameless!, which she will debut at Joe's Pub this fall. I recently had the chance to chat with the charming actress, who sprinkles her conversation with much laughter and seems nothing like the roles she has played onstage. That brief interview follows:
Question: Tell me about your upcoming trip to Los Angeles.
Laura Bell Bundy: I'm pitching a TV show with Kerry Butler. It's a half-hour comedy. I can't tell you the story, though, because someone might take it! [Laughs.] We've had the thought in our heads for a few months now, and it's pitching season right now in L.A., so we gotta go do it. Q: Have you ever pitched a show before? Is it difficult?
LBB: I did it last year . . . Doing the deal with the studio is sometimes a little difficult — it takes a lot of time. Timing is really everything. It's not difficult —it's actually pretty easy. You go in a room, and you talk about your show idea.
Q: You've been in two Broadway hits, Hairspray and now Wicked. How have those experiences been different for you?
LBB: Hairspray was a show I was involved in from the very first reading, and I was 19. And, Hairspray, was one of my favorite movies growing up. I used to watch the video while I was eating my lunch. [Laughs.] You have those favorite movies that you watch over and over again and you have that really big Blockbuster bill because of it. Well, Hairspray was that [movie] for me, and my mom would let me rent it and watch it, which was very nice and strange of her. [Laughs.]
So, when I auditioned for the reading of Hairspray, I was so excited! It was my first Broadway show. I missed one reading because I was doing a soap opera, "Guiding Light." . . . I felt like I was a part of creating this [Hairspray] character and bringing something to life. A lot of us had been a part of the readings — we had started a family for two years before the show went into rehearsal. There was a sense of community and family with that show. Even with the new people, there was such energy of Hairspray as a cast [and] as a show. It was kind of like high school. Everybody pretty much got along. It was the most incredible experience. We had an idea that the show was going to be a hit, but it was a huge, popular success all over the country. And, Wicked is that, too, but Hairspray was one of the first in a really long time. I feel like I've been really lucky to be in two hit shows. It's really nice. I know it's not always going to be like that, but I can hope. [Laughs.]
The thing with Wicked is, I came on to Wicked after the show had already opened. I didn't go to San Francisco with it [because] I was doing Hairspray. I wasn't in any rehearsals — I was out in L.A. pitching the show I [presented] last year. I was asked to come in and meet the creative team the week before it opened, and I didn't start working until the middle of November, maybe even after Thanksgiving, as a standby. . . When you're not in the show every day, it takes a longer time to build relationships. And, then, when you're on, it's not the same as if that part is yours. You haven't created it. The difference is I really did feel more a part of Hairspray. I felt like that was my show, that was my baby, the character was my baby. I felt such a sense of community there. Whereas, with Wicked, it's taken me a longer time to feel like that, and I could never truly feel like that with the character because I didn't feel like it was mine to play and change lines. I changed it as much as I could, but there's only so much you can do when you only go on like 25 times. [Laughs.]
Q: When does your Wicked run end?
LBB: I leave August 8.
Q: A lot of people thought you would be take over for Kristin Chenoweth when she left the role. What happened with that casting?
LBB: It's a long story. I was offered the role, and, basically, we couldn't come to mutually agreeable terms, so I had to pass.
Q: Were you disappointed?
LBB: Of course I was disappointed — it was one of those things that when you foresee yourself taking over a role, you kind of see how the next six months of your life are going to be, and you get that in your head and then you plan accordingly. But when something goes wrong and you've got to change your plan, it kind of jars up everything. It would have been a great time for me — I would have loved to have done the role, but I also feel like the role will always be Kristin Chenoweth's role, and I would rather have the opportunity — instead of having to stay at something for nine months and not being able to leave at any point — to create something else or at least have the opportunity to do that if it comes along.
Q: You're premiering your own show, Shameless!, at Joe's Pub in October. Tell me a little bit about what that show is going to be like.
LBB: You know, a lot of people do one-woman, one-man shows. You get up and sing a lot of songs, and you take the journey down memory lane or you talk about men, a whole show about men, or you do a show where you're just doing one composer's songs. But this particular show is different in that I'm playing other people. I'm playing well-known celebrities. I'm [also] playing my mother. I'm playing Britney Spears. I'm playing Judy Garland. All of these different characters kind of tell the story of my life and how I came from Kentucky as a five-year-old girl and came to New York and got a five-year modeling contract with Ford Modeling Agency and how that put me into other things — how I got to where I am now. It's a comic look at my dysfunctional life seen through other people's eyes. [Laughs.]
Q: Would you like to do it elsewhere after Joe's Pub?
LBB: Absolutely. I think Joe's Pub is like my dress rehearsal because I'm never gonna have done it before an audience before. And I have wigs and all this crazy madness. [Laughs.] It's going to be really fun. I want to do this show as much as I can — I know that it's one of those things that I can always extend on . . . I do a look at Hairspray, I do a small little glance at Wicked. I do the look at Ruthless! when I was little. That's actually a funny section. I do me going back to Kentucky in high school — this girl who had learned all this stuff from being in New York and all of a sudden I'm jarred back into a world of normalcy, and I'm completely not fitting in. The thing is the show is relatable because everybody's been through that — everybody's felt those kinds of emotions, but it's also a little different because not everybody was a child actor.
Q: I think the first show I saw you in was Gypsy out at Paper Mill. What was that experience like?
LBB: That was great. I had a blast. I would've loved to have done something with it [after Paper Mill]. Betty Buckley was great, Deborah Gibson was a sweetheart and Joe Machota was so freakin' talented. [Laughs.] It was one of the first things he did before he got Mamma Mia!. That was so much fun. I was a senior in high school in Kentucky, and I was missing time to do Gypsy. It reconfirmed how much I loved doing musical theatre and how much I really, truly wanted to be in the business. Gypsy helped me with that — how much fun it was to be with a cast and how much I loved gay men! [Laughs.]
Q: Because of the roles you've played, do you think people have a misconception about you?
LBB: Absolutely, absolutely! People think I'm a total stuck-up blonde bitch. [Laughs.] I always make comments like, "Oh, I'm playing the bitch again — typecasting!" I think if you've done a kind of a role enough, you become really good at it, and it's believable because the character is not only a little over the top, but it's also got a sense of realness to it because you've done it so many times. I think it would be really nice for me to be able to do something different now. [Laughs.]
Q: Do you have any other projects in the works?
LBB: Yes. I'm in negotiations right now for The It Girl, but I can't really talk about that. And, Tarzan, I did the reading for that. It was awesome. I'm so excited about that, but I can't talk about that either. [Laughs.] There are other projects in which I'm not playing the snooty blonde girl, and I'm very excited. [Laughs.]
[Shameless! The Life and Times of Laura Bell Bundy will be presented Oct. 4 at Joe's Pub, located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Produced by Lynn Shaw, the 9:30 PM concert will be directed by Jamie McGonnigal with musical direction by John McMahon. For tickets, visit www.telecharge.com.] DIVA TIDBITS
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Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!