Leanne Smith won’t be trying to channel Reese Witherspoon with her portrayal of Elle Woods in the Mac-Haydn Theatre production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” Instead, she’ll just try to be herself.
“A lot of people have been telling me around here that I am Elle Woods in real life,” said Smith with a laugh last week between rehearsals. “I like to be goofy. But I am a more serious version, and I hope to bring that to the role, and a more honest version, too.”
The show opens with performances today at 2 and 8 p.m. at Mac-Haydn, and will play Wednesdays through Sundays through July 22. Based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the 2001 film and nonmusical that earned Witherspoon one of her three Golden Globe nominations, “Legally Blonde” tells the story of Elle Woods, a UCLA sorority queen who, after being dumped by her boyfriend, follows him to Harvard Law School in an attempt to win him back.
‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’
WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Rt. 203, Chatham
WHEN: Opens 2 and 8 p.m. today and runs through July 22; performance times vary
HOW MUCH: $30-$28, $12 for children under 12
MORE INFO: 392-9292, www.machaydntheatre.org
From book to movie to stage
The screenplay was adapted from Brown’s book by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith. Lutz borrowed from some of her own experiences while a student at Virginia’s James Madison University to write the film, and its box-office success led to a 2003 sequel, “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde,” and a 2009 direct-to-DVD spin-off, “Legally Blondes.”
In 2007, it was turned into a Broadway musical by Laurence O’Keefe, Neil Benjamin and Heather Hach, and ran for nearly 18 months. The show earned seven Tony nominations, including Best Actress for Laura Bell Bundy in the role of Elle.
“I’ve always loved the original movie, and I saw an MTV version of the musical on television, but I’ve never seen a stage production,” said Smith. “But I like everything about the show. There are a lot of laughs, and you might think she’s just a ditsy blonde, but there’s so much more to her and the show. She really is very smart.”
A New Jersey native who now calls New York City home, Smith is an October 2010 graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan.
A singer first
“I didn’t really start performing until high school, and I was always a singer first,” said Smith. “Singing always came naturally to me, so yeah, I’m a singer who acts, not an actor who sings. Acting and dancing were something I had to work a little harder.”
In January of 2011 she began a 10-month gig with the Disney Dream cruise ship, playing the role of Sophia in an original production called “Disney Believe.”
“Not too long after I got my certificate from AMDA I went directly to work at Disney getting ready for the cruise,” said Smith. “It was an absolutely wonderful experience. It was a lot of work, but the shows they put on are beautiful. I felt like it was really good for me.”
After her gig with Disney was up, Smith, like many young actors, spent some time working as a singing waitress at Ellen’s Stardust Diner in New York City. In “Legally Blonde,” she gets plenty of opportunity to use her singing voice, and was able to single out “Take it Like a Man” as her favorite song in the show. It occurs when Elle helps a new male friend, Emmett, purchase some new clothes.
“There’s something about ‘Take it Like a Man’ that I really like,” she said. “I love the tune and the words. She dresses him up, but she tells him that it’s still just you, and I think that message is one of the best parts of the show.”
Other songs in the show include “What You Want,” cheering Elle to follow her heart; “Blood in the Water,” Callahan’s declaration of his ruthless way of law; “Bend and Snap,” Paulette and Elle’s tribute to femininity; and the title song, “Legally Blonde.”
Patrick Heffernan plays Emmett, who becomes Elle’s first friend at Harvard, and Lars Lee is Warner Huntington III, Elle’s old boyfriend. Also in the cast are Monica M. Wemitt as Paulette and Rob Richardson as Professor Callahan.
John Saunders is directing “Legally Blonde,” and will also be directing “Copacabana” at Mac-Haydn later this summer. He has worked regularly at the theater, having also directed “Jekyll & Hyde,” “Carousel,” “Chicago” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Saunders has also appeared at Mac-Haydn as an actor over the years, including roles as John Adams in “1776,” Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” and Edna in “Hairspray.”