With the original Elle Woods on hand, CMT’s ‘Blonde’ has more fun
The setting on Sunday evening: The stage of the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium, soon to host opening night of the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”
The dominant color: Pink. Would you expect anything else? The multi-level set, a series of cube-like platforms stacked on top of each other, shouts “pink” in every variation.
The star attraction: None other than Laura Bell Bundy, the original “Elle Woods” in the Broadway production of “Legally Blonde.” Bundy originated the role of Amber Von Tussle in “Hairspray” and was a standby for Kristin Chenoweth in “Wicked,” and she has a couple of TV series (“Hart of Dixie” and “Anger Management”) under her belt. In recent years, she’s increased the pulse rates of Elle Woods-in-training across the country by offering youth master classes. (“It’s such an awesome honor to see young people learning the craft of musical theater,” Bundy tells the audience.)
The format: After Bundy’s CMT master class on Sunday afternoon, she takes the stage for two solo musical numbers in a “mini-concert” that also features a couple of ensemble songs from CMT’s “Legally Blonde” and a lineup of performances by several alums of the company. The show is emceed by Kindle Lynn Cowger, recently named Miss Fresno County (and a talented veteran of Good Company Players, the Selma Arts Center and Fresno State’s theater department).
The wry observations: As Bundy introduces the song “Popular” from “Wicked,” she tells the audience she’d been standby for the character of Glinda in 2003-04. “Raise your hand if you weren’t alive then,” she asks the audience. When only a few audience members do, she breathes a sigh of relief. “I feel better,” she says with a laugh. She goes on later to talk about how “Legally Blonde,” with its key plot point of sexual harassment and underestimating people based on looks, was a musical ahead of its time.
The brain freeze: Bundy offers a confession: She hadn’t sung “Popular” in a long time. “Let me do the math” — pause — “in 14 years,” she says. Near the top of the song, she forgets some of the lyrics, and the audience helps her out. It’s actually a sweet educational moment, showing that even professionals aren’t always perfect, and that the important thing is to carry on with confidence and style.
The memories: As a master class teacher all over the country, Bundy’s time in Fresno will likely in the future become a blur for her. But for the young performers who get to perform with her, I’m sure those memories will last a lifetime. At one point, CMT cast member Cordell Moon, playing the role of Elle’s ex-boyfriend, Warner, shares a moment in the spotlight with Bundy as she sings about how they used to get frisky in a hot tub. And I’m sure that Moon was thinking at that moment: “Right now I’m singing opposite LAURA BELL BUNDY.” That’s something he won’t forget.
The supporting performances: Highlights include Logan Carnation, who soars in a rendition of “Waiting for Life to Begin,” from “Once on This Island,” and Cameron Barger, who definitely wins the “Most Spring in His Step” award with “World’s Greatest Dad,” from “Elf: The Musical.” (Both titles are on CMT’s 2018 season lineup.)
The highlight of the evening: The CMT cast joins Bundy the offer back-up for the power anthem “So Much Better,” which Bundy offers with a voice that could probably be heard from the Fresno Water Tower across the street. The final note of the song is one of the great belt-it-out moments on Broadway, and Bundy delivers. I love this song, and to hear the original Elle sing it is, well, pretty great. Thanks, CMT.
A reminder: “Legally Blonde” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 13.
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