As she travels around the country playing Elle Woods in Legally Blonde The Musical, Nikki Bohne keeps hearing one name: Reese Witherspoon, the actress who created the character of Elle in the 2001 movie Legally Blonde.
But Bohne is more familiar with Laura Bell Bundy, the Lexington native and Tony Award-nominated actress who originated the role on Broadway.
And Bohne is well aware that this weekend, she is playing in Bundy's hometown, on a stage Bundy played before she starred on Broadway in Hairspray, Wicked and Blonde.
"We're really excited to play Lexington," says Bohne, who never got to see Bundy play the role live but did see the recording of the original Broadway production, which was shown on MTV in 2007. "From the moment I watched that recording, I was blown away by her performance and energy, and she just embodied the character."
That character is a collegiate Valley Girl. As the show opens, Elle has her heart broken by her boyfriend, Warner, who she was sure would be her happily ever after. He wants a more sophisticated woman by his side as he pursues a career in law and politics, starting at Harvard Law School.
Deciding she can be that woman, Elle crams for admission tests to Harvard, gets in, and attempts to prove there's more to her than shopping sprees and her dog, Bruiser.
The movie was a hit, even leading to a less successful sequel, 2003's Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, and then the 2009 TV film, Legally Blondes, about Elle's cousins from England who come to America and have a similar journey of self-discovery. And in 2007, Blonde became a Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin and a script by Heather Hach.
It marked Bundy's first opportunity to create a leading role on Broadway, and as Bohne can testify, the part is a monster in the skill and energy it demands.
"It requires a lot of care and responsibility," Bohne says. "I try to make sure I am doing everything possible to take care of my health, to make sure that I can portray this character for the full 21/2 hours, and I can sing all those songs and dance and be in four-inch heels for a certain amount of time.
"It can definitely be hard on the body, and I am a strict eight-hours-of-sleep-a-night girl, and I live a little bit of a different lifestyle than other people on tour. I remember a choreographer once told the cast, 'Elles always live like nuns.' "
And there is a growing list of Elles, including Sheridan Smith, who just won an Olivier Award — England's version of the Tonys — for playing the part in the West End production. Bundy was nominated for a Tony in 2007 but lost to Christine Ebersole for her performance in Grey Gardens.
Bohne is well aware that she is walking in the footsteps of Witherspoon and Bundy. But she also has to make the part her own, and for inspiration, she can look to Bundy.
"Everybody walks into Legally Blonde The Musical with Reese Witherspoon in mind," Bohne says. "But when I watched Laura Bell Bundy, the moment she walked onstage, I forgot about Reese Witherspoon, and all I did was watch her be Elle.
"And what was amazing about that was she made it her own, and she wasn't trying to replicate anything. She stayed true to the character and who she was, but she added her own personality to it and wasn't afraid to make choices that were different from the movie. She just had that star quality that embodies who she is, instead of trying to mimic somebody else.
"She was true to who she is, which I think is the message of Elle Woods."