You’re a first-time director for Children’s Musical Theaterworks, and your assignment is “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” You find out that a special guest will be dropping by six days before opening night to help your cast prepare: none other than Laura Bell Bundy, who originated the role of Elle Woods on Broadway.
Are you nervous?
Well, sure, says director Vanessa Gonzalez. Who wouldn’t be? But she took it in stride.
“There was definitely a large amount of nerves that came with preparing for the master class, but the excitement of getting feedback and the BEST set of eyes for this production truly outweighed any nerves,” she says.
I caught up this week with the busy Gonzalez, who last year choreographed CMT’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” She has her hands full overseeing a production with 50 cast members ages 12-20.
Q: Tell us a little about what Bundy focused on during the class.
A: Laura Bell focused on character nuances for both principal and ensemble actors throughout the show. I selected four numbers/scenes for her to watch and she then spoke with almost every actor about their characters’ motivation and specificity during the scene. She was particularly helpful with the Delta Nu girls in developing different but complementary character types.
Q: “Legally Blonde” (both the movie and musical) has always walked a fine line between empowerment and caricature of blonde women. Do you think it’s different performing it 10 years after the musical came out and 17 years after the movie came out?
A: I think that performing this show in today’s world surely brings an extra level of controversy, because so many stereotypes and negative connotations toward women are being combated as we speak. The topic of female empowerment was not in the forefront of conversation when this movie was released. I thought it was important to showcase some of the stereotypes the show feeds into, simply to encourage a conversation of how much has changed in 10 years. The youth of today is extremely attuned to contemporary issues like women’s rights, and the cast has been able to see how they as young people can be active in distinguishing the power of a woman from the caricature of the typical blonde.
Q: The song “Bend and Snap” is fun, but it’s also overtly sexual and puts a premium on physical appearance, which today could be seen by some as problematic. Thoughts?
A: Our cast performs the song in a way that is tasteful but also allows the young women to feel comfortable and confident in their bodies. I see the number as a metamorphosis moment for Paulette more than a song about vanity. It is truly a girl power number: women empowering women to be unapologetically confident.
Q: Laura Bell Bundy mentioned the #MeToo movement in relation to the musical. Did you see a similar connection? Did you talk about it with your cast?
AI think there is a connection to #MeToo when you look at the relationship between Professor Callahan and Elle in the second act of the show. There are definite parallels in how he treats her in comparison to her colleagues on the team as well as how he approaches her inappropriately during their final scene together. In a way this show is ahead of its time by choosing to drive the story forward in the way that it did. She decides to stand up and prove that she is capable while still being completely herself, much like the women in the entertainment industry.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you as a director?
A: This show has a lot of moving parts, particularly during musical numbers where the set changes multiple times to represent a change of time. It had been challenging to make those set changes work seamlessly along with the choreography and scene work taking place in front of it. All in all it is a BIG show where I had to be actively thinking about the smallest of details so that all elements can work together.
Q: Tell us a little about the dog who plays Bruiser and what it’s like to work with him/her.
Bruiser’s real name is Lola. She is the cutest little thing and belongs to the show’s technical director. When the title was announced at CMT, we all knew that Lola was the perfect dog for Bruiser. She is so trusting of the girls she works with and VERY professional. You will love her as soon as you see her.
Q: What qualities do you think Mallory Parker brings to her role as Elle?
A: Mallory embodies many of the qualities Elle as a character possesses. She is confident and positive, always on top of her responsibilities and a dynamite vocalist. She provides a quirkier and goofy side to the character that you may not have seen in other Elles. I think the audience will enjoy her humor and fun-loving spirit.
Q: What do you hope audiences take away from this show?
A: I hope that the audience leaves the show dancing! The music is so fun and the message so inspiring that it’s hard to leave unhappy!
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: I’d like to thank my cast and crew for rising to the challenge and Laura Bell for the invaluable feedback. She helped push the show forward in a way no one else could. I really hope all who comes to watch, will leave feeling “Positive”!
“Legally Blonde: The Musical,” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Runs through 22. Tickets are $14-$22.
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