In its first year on Broadway, Legally Blonde the Musical earned seven 2007 Tony Award nominations. Becky Gulsvig, understudied for the roles of Elle Woods, Serena and Margot in the original Broadway cast and originated the role of Leilani. Now, she’s starring in the national tour and talking to TheImproper about her experience.
She stepped up into the lead role as Elle when the show went on tour in 2008, and was nominated for the 2009 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non-Resident Production.
No stranger to the stage, Gulsvig was also seen on Broadway in Hairspray as Amber Von Tussle.
She can also be seen on a Verizon commercial, and Gulsvig performed the song “So Much Better” live at the 2009 Tony Awards.
The show will begin performances at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, June 1, and will play through June 6.
The Minnesota native chatted with TheImproper about what it means to be Elle, while traveling between venues with her husband and golden retriever.
IM: How does touring compare to working on Broadway?
Gulsvig: It’s a whole different beast. It’s the whole show and getting exhausted from that, and then getting exhausted from traveling on top of it. We’ve been on the road for over a year and a half, so we’re all a bit ready to be done living out of suitcases, but it has been going really, really well.
IM: On MTV’s Legally Blonde The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods, everyone got to see how Elle is such a tough role to fill. She has to be able to sing, dance, and act, and she has to be able to do it all in high heels. How did you prepare yourself for this multitude of challenges?
Gulsvig: I was lucky in that I’ve been with this production since the workshop in the spring of 2006, so I’ve had some time to get used to the show and the role, and I understudied it for a year and a half, so I sort of got to ease in a little bit. But it definitely takes a toll on your body and your mind. It’s a lot every night. You make due. You do get used to it, it’s like anything else, the more you do it. You just have to take care of yourself.IM: How do you take care of yourself?
Gulsvig: Rest and massages, and those yoga toe things that stretch out your toes so that your bunions don’t get ridiculous! We are blessed with a lot of street shoes in this show, not dance shoes, so they’re a little tricky, but they’re cute! (laughs)
IM: How does a Minnesota girl get to be the lead in such a popular show?
Gulsvig: I grew up in Minnesota, and I graduated a year early from high school and moved out to New York and started working. I was very fortunate, and I booked my first job on my fifth audition and I did the national tour of Peter Pan. I played Wendy. Then I did a bunch of regional work, worked on a cruise ship for a while.
I played the drunk date of one of the characters on a soap opera for two days (laughs). Just a lot of random things around, and then made my Broadway debut in 2004 in Hairspray. I was in the ensemble for a year, and then I took over the role of Amber von Tussle, Tracy Turnblad’s nemesis. While I was doing that I became involved in Legally Blonde and that’s been four years. It’s been good.
IM: So you went from one really snotty blonde girl to a much nicer, but still ditzy blonde girl?
Gulsvig: Yeah, it’s fun to have the audience on your side!
IM: What is your earliest memory of yourself as a performer?
Gulsvig: I do hear the stories of me sitting in the grocery cart singing at the top of my lungs just not even caring. I’m not that free anymore! I sang in church a lot as a kid, and did all the choirs and that sort of thing. My first musical was Annie when I was in fourth grade. That was my first full-on musical theater experience, which clearly got me hooked. Yeah, that was pretty awesome.
IM: How can you relate to Elle? Do you have anything in common?
Gulsvig: Yeah, absolutely. I think on the surface we’re very different. I’m a little more laid back, far less girly. But underneath we’re similar, and that’s the main point of the story, is what’s below the surface. And definitely the whole following your dreams and having to stay true to yourself and having to prove people wrong. I can relate to all of that, both as a woman, and then as an actor. I mean, as an actor you constantly have to prove yourself, so they’re very relatable traits.
IM: Who has inspired you to perform?
Gulsvig: I’m a huge Julie Andrew fans. She is it for me. I grew up watching “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins.” I got to audition for her once in New York, and that was so great. I definitely credit her as inspiration. I try to see a lot of other shows because I’m constantly inspired by people in the business now, but it’s hard while being on tour. My peers and people that I perform with are also inspirations.
IM: Despite your demanding schedule, have you been able to see anything lately?
Gulsvig: I was back in December and I saw Ragtime and Next to Normal, which were both amazing.
IM: What is your dream role to play in a musical?
Gulsvig: There’s a lot I’d like to play. My dream role is to get to play a lot of different roles, to be honest. Of course, I’d love to be in Wicked like everybody else. I’d love to be in Mamma Mia! Give me some ABBA, I love it! (laughs) I’d like to do more of the classical musicals too. I tend to get cast in the poppy, modern musicals, but it’d be fun to do some Rodgers and Hammerstein, and all of those sorts of things. I think my dream would just be to get to do a variety.
IM: Which songs do you find yourself singing in the shower? Would one catch you singing Wicked?
Gulsvig: No, they’re not from Wicked in the shower. A variety, whatever’s in my head. Definitely not from the show though! I get my fill of Legally Blonde.
IM: You must be sick of those already, after having sung them for a few years!
Gulsvig: Not sick of it, I mean they’re great songs, but getting to sing them everyday means you don’t need to sing them in the shower! (laughs)
IM: Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
Gulsvig: Still in New York, maybe living just outside the city, with a backyard and the ability to commute into a Broadway show and get to do a variety of things. I’d still like to be involved in the business, but be able to have a normal life, too.
IM: Obviously you are a New Yorker, at heart.
Gulsvig: I really like New York. I’ve been to L.A. with the show, and that was fun and great. If I end up going back there for a little bit that’s awesome, but I definitely love New York.
IM: Tell me something that no one else would know about you.
Gulsvig: I’m good at basketball, that’s not something that nobody knows, but that’s not really my theater side. It annoys me when people chew loudly! A fun fact is that I do the tour with my husband and our golden retriever, we’ve been driving the whole tour for the past year and a half. It’s not a new fact, but that’s sort of something I consider interesting to me. It takes extra dedication to drive as far as we’ve driven, so it’s been great. Everyone else flies together. We have decided to navigate on our own so that we can all be together and we can have our dog.
IM: Is your husband in the show too?
Gulsvig: Nope, he’s not. He sells the merchandise. It worked out.
IM: According to your resume, one of your special talents includes horror screaming. How did you discover that?
Gulsvig: I was in Grease at Paper Mill, and I had to be the background voice to the movie when Danny and Sandy are at the drive-in. I had to do the horror scream. That’s the thing on my resume I get asked about the most, which is hilarious. It makes me unique.
IM: You also claim to be a talented bowler. What’s your highest score in bowling?
Gulsvig: I’m not an amazing bowler, I just really like to bowl! I don’t even know my highest score, it’s probably not even that good. I just really think it’s fun. I’m more than happy to spend a night at the bowling alley!
IM: It would certainly be fun to see Elle at a bowling alley in her pink high heels and a pink bowling ball.
Gulsvig: Oh, please. Yeah, right. I would like to see that too!
To catch Becky in Legally Blonde The Musical at The NJPAC, tickets can be purchased online at www.njpac.org, by phone at 1-888-GO-NJPAC, or in person at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center box office at One Center Street in Newark, NJ.