PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Laura Bell Bundy

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Laura Bell Bundy It seems as if actress Laura Bell Bundy has been legally blonde for some time now.
Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde.
Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde. Photo by Paul Kolnik

She was the very blonde (in looks and personality) Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray. She was perhaps even blonder as Glinda, the sunny and popular witch in Wicked. Now she's back on Broadway, and the show is actually named Legally Blonde, based on the 2001 Reese Witherspoon film comedy of the same name. The character, Elle Woods, has golden locks again, and is just as self-absorbed, socially desired and cunning as Amber and Glinda were. This time, however, she's not just outside the spotlight (as Amber was) or forced to share it (as Glinda did). It's all about Elle, and the job marks Bundy's debut as an originating musical comedy leading lady on Broadway. It would seem a high honor for a woman of only 25 years. But then, Bundy has been performing since she was nine. She paused in a Los Angeles airport to talk to Playbill.com.

Playbill.com: This will be the first Broadway show where you will have originated the lead role. Does it feel different than your past shows?
Laura Bell Bundy: Oh, it's a completely different experience. The difference between this and Wicked is Glinda and Elphaba shared the lead role, so there was this double responsibility there. And I didn't even originate. This is more similar to the experience of Hairspray, in which it was an original thing that I had been involved in from the beginning and the first readings. However, now I'm in a position where there's more responsibility, but there's more creative input as well.

Playbill.com: Do you feel a lot more pressure?
LBB: Yes, there's more pressure, but it's not pressure that I'm not enjoying or looking forward to.

Playbill.com: What was the preview period like while the show was trying out in San Francisco? Were you rehearsing during the day and performing at night?
LBB: Yeah. Even after we opening, we continued to rehearse during the day. The show changed quite a bit. There weren't any major changes, but it was tightened up, it was clarified, made more concise.

Playbill.com: Does the show follow the plot of the movie pretty closely?
LBB: It's pretty close, but there are differences. The relationship between Emmett [played by Christian Borle] and Elle is more complex and it's a more strongly grounded friendship, and it helps Elle succeed in school. That really wasn't the case in the film, where he was this kind of outside character looking in on Elle and interested in her. In this case, Emmett is doing the same thing, but he's kind of like "tough love" a little bit. He's like, "Listen girl, you came from a rich family. I came from nothing. If you're going to prove yourself, you've got to do it on merit, because every one of these bluebloods is coming in here with an advantage that you don't have." So, there's that. And there's difference between Paulette [played by Orfeh] and Elle, just because of the nature of the differences between me and Orfeh and Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Coolidge [who played the parts in the movie]. She still provides that relief of someone I can talk to. And we have a Greek chorus, which is basically my sorority girls coming to life in my head — like, good and evil. Playbill.com: You've been performing since you were very young. Was that your idea or your parents' idea?
LBB: Probably a mix of both. I know that in order to get to New York and get involved in the first place I needed somebody else to do that for me, and that was my mother. But, also, I had a very active imagination as a kid, and I was constantly performing, whether I was making money doing it or not, whether it was on a stage in front of 1,000 people or in the living room in front of my family. So, I always wanted to do it. It didn't matter where I was. It wasn't a job for me. I still kind of have a similar attitude toward work. There's an element that, as soon as it stops being fun for me, I'm out of there. It's always been fun for me. It's the most happy space I can be in.

Playbill.com: Were either of your parents in the business?
LBB: No. However my grandfather was a radio DJ and announcer and sportscaster and he was on television as an anchor. He grew up with Rosemary Clooney. So there was show business in his background, but on a local level, in Kentucky and Cincinnati. He had a lot of opportunity to go bigger but he chose his family first. A lot of who I am as a person and a performer came from him.

Playbill.com: What does your father do?
LBB: My father has a manufacturing company in Kentucky and he's an electrical engineer. A brilliant man. A brilliant businessman. So he understands the business aspects of my business very well. My dad and I always communicate when I have to negotiate a deal.

Playbill.com: Is it true that when your were starring in Ruthless as a teenager, your understudies were Natalie Portman and Britney Spears?
LBB: Yes, that's true. We were kids. Britney came back to see Hairspray. I've run into her a couple of time. It's always friendly and fun. But Natalie and I, our friendship is different. Britney was a little bit younger than me. She was very quiet. Natalie and me instantly bonded as friends. We don't see each other often, but when we do it all comes back. There was a real friendship there. We hung out and played together as kids. That's still there, even though we're off doing our own things and I never know what country she's in.

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