PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Bailey Hanks

PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Bailey Hanks It's a good bet that Bailey Hanks knows where the character she plays, Elle Woods, is coming from.
Legally Blonde's Bailey Hanks.
Legally Blonde's Bailey Hanks. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Elle goes from bubble-headed, pink-loving, SoCal sorority sister to valedictorian of Harvard Law during the course of Legally Blonde the Musical. Going from college drama student at Coastal Carolina University to the lead in a multi-million-dollar Broadway musical is, it could be argued, as big a change in circumstance. That was Hanks' trajectory when, at the age of 20, the South Carolina native won the reality-show competition "Legally Blonde The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods." Hanks began performances at the Palace Theatre on July 23 and has now spent more than three weeks in her pink dressing room at the Palace. If she is at all nervous about the sudden advancement in her career, the preternaturally poised pastor's daughter doesn't show it. Hanks spoke to Playbill.com about the first professional gig in her already 15-year-old life on the stage.

Playbill.com: You were rehearsing Legally Blonde for some time before you were actually revealed as the winner of the reality show. The producers said they had you come to rehearsal in disguise to avoid detection. What sort of disguise did you wear?
Bailey Hanks: The first two weeks of rehearsal, I went out and bought a really dark, brunette wig. And I would wear that into rehearsals and out of rehearsals. The place where we were rehearsing there were a lot of people from the theatre and Broadway and the producers did not want me to be seen.

Playbill.com: Were you aware of any attempts by the press to find out your identity?
BH: Yeah. There were a lot of people who were trying really hard to get it out of me. A lot of people were saying stuff on the Internet. It wasn't until about a week before they revealed me that they accidentally put up my recording of "So Much Better" too soon, and some people heard it and heard that it sounded like me. So, it kind of got out a little bit. Luckily, it wasn't widespread.

Playbill.com: How young were you when you first started performing?
BH: The first time I ever sung in front of a crowd was when I was four. My first play was when I was five. I've been doing it since then.

Playbill.com: So you're familiar with the trappings of the theatre and what it takes to put on a show. But what sort of learning curve did you face when you began rehearsals in Legally Blonde?
BH: I was really not that difficult for me. I was very much prepared for all this. I've been working for it for a long time and really stayed focused. I was kind of ready for it. Of course, I was definitely not up to Broadway potential, but I knew I could get there and that I was working hard. And I knew the show very well.

Bailey Hanks in Legally Blonde.
photo by Andrew Walker

Playbill.com: What was the experience of your first performance before a Broadway audience like?
BH: Oh, it was phenomenal. It was the best feeling I have ever experienced in my life. Playbill.com: Did you feel any nervousness?
BH: I wasn't nervous at all. I was very excited and ready to get on the ball doing this. I've been waiting for so long to have this chance. I was very much prepared. The crowd was so overwhelming. It was completely sold out. The energy was great. My family was there. It was just a really good feeling. It was like all my dreams had completely come true.

Playbill.com: You were in college. What is the situation with that? Have you left school?
BH: I actually withdrew from college once I found out I was in the top ten [in the television show]. I had to let my mom know I was withdrawing, because classes would have gotten sticky, and I would have failed the classes I was taking. I would have had zeroes on my transcript.

Playbill.com: Do you think you might go back to it at some point?
BH: Honestly, I was going to school to do this. I don't plan on going back, because there's no need for me to spend $35,000 a year working towards what I'm doing right now. I'm content and happy. I made the decision to spend my first year in college taking all the core courses, like math and science. I got the really basic schooling out of the way, and it's a good thing that I did.

Playbill.com: What is your background. What do your parents do?
BH: My father is a pastor and my mother is a nurse.

Playbill.com: Did you sing in the choir at your father's church?
BH: I did. My mother and I both did.

Playbill.com: How do your parents feel about your performing career?
BH: They're very supportive. They're the ones who got me where I am today. They're actually in New York right now, seeing the show for the fourth time.