Stage & Dance

Learning from the 'Blonde'

Acting students walk around the floor of a band room at Lexington Catholic High School while an instructor gives them situations to contemplate.

”Think about something that makes you happy,“ Laura Ellington says, and the students quicken their walk. ”Think about something you really want, and you got it.“

Then she adds, ”Now imagine it's been taken away,“ and the shuffle of the feet dramatically decelerates.

In the midst of these suggestions, to which the budding actors are supposed to react emotionally, Ellington drops the reality of the moment: ”There's a Tony nominee in the room,“ she says. ”Does that make you anxious?“

Circulating among the students, in a red T-shirt and pink Chucks, is Laura Bell Bundy.

A week after wrapping up a run of 575 performances in Legally Blonde The Musical as Elle Woods, the role that earned her that Tony nod, one would think you'd find Bundy sipping colorful beverages on some far-flung beach.

But just eight days after taking her final bow, Bundy was back at her alma mater letting aspiring triple threats in on the tricks of her trade.

”It's something I can give back,“ Bundy said late Tuesday afternoon after the fifth of six sessions of Take It From the Top, the Broadway preparation workshops she and fellow Blonde cast member Paul Canaan presented over two days. ”I know something about what's happening. For people who want to go look for jobs on Broadway, I can tell them how to do it.“

On Monday and Tuesday, Bundy, Canaan and Broadway music director John McMahon conducted two sessions of music, dance and theater workshops for middle- and high-schoolers. In the evenings, they offered audition classes in which aspiring performers came in as if they were trying out for a role, and the trio critiqued their work and answered questions about what would happen in real Broadway auditions.

”You're not Laura Bell Bundy because you're from Kentucky,“ Canaan told a class of high school students he had just taken through Bend and Snap, one of Blonde's signature numbers. ”Sing healthy, dance healthy, but be who you are.“

That could be a bit of a tall order if you are just about to play a role in front of the woman who created it, played it hundreds of times and received one of the elite entertainment honors for doing it.

After milling about the floor channeling emotions, acting students were paired up and given scenes from Legally Blonde or Wicked, another Broadway hit in which Bundy performed.

That put several actors in the position of playing Elle for Bundy.

”That was kind of intimidating,“ said Embry Thielmeier, 16, a student at the Youth Performing Arts School in Louisville. ”But I feel like I got something out of it, and it was really great of her to come do this.“

A lot of Bundy's advice was about getting beyond the mere recitation of lines and making characters real and believable. Several times, she and Ellington told actors to put their scripts down and play the drama of the scenes without worry about getting the lines right.

”You need to pay attention and be in that moment,“ Bundy said.

Nikki DiLoreto, 18, shares the Lexington Catholic heritage with Bundy, and said that after initial nerves, it was not hard to play Elle for Bundy.

”I knew I needed to put that aside,“ she said. ”She's not here to judge us. It was exciting to hear what she had to say.“

DiLoreto said that there was always an awareness among students that Bundy was from Lexington Catholic. Interest in the drama department spiked, she said, when Bundy was cast in Legally Blonde.

The show enjoys one of the highest profiles on Broadway, thanks to the production's being shown on MTV last fall and a subsequent reality-competition show to choose Bundy's successor. The reality show, Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods, also gave Take It From the Top some extra star power as Canaan was one of the judges. His catchphrase, ”That's a hit!“ was commemorated by the workshop's T-shirt, which said ”Hit!“ on the front.

”Broadway doesn't get a chance to reach out like this often,“ Canaan said, between classes. ”That makes this really exciting.“

Bundy's aunt, Tanya Bell, said that on the first morning a girl burst into tears when she saw Canaan because she had been so anxious to meet him.

In his sessions, Canaan took students from a group resembling rerouted traffic to mostly clean, fluid, bending and snapping lines of dancers in a matter of minutes.

Canaan said the workshop started because Bundy wanted to come home and do something for local actors. It has since mushroomed, and they are booked to present Take It From the Top in Michigan, California and New York in coming months.

”We actually felt bad, because some people came here from Rhode Island and Connecticut, and we just booked another one in New York,“ Canaan says. ”It would have been easier for them to come down to New York.“

In all, the Lexington edition of the workshops attracted about 200 people. Bundy's mother, Lorna Bundy-Jones, said participants ranged from giggly, star-struck girls seeking autographs to serious aspiring actors.

”The kids are really talented here,“ said Canaan, who said he and Bundy were collecting some head shots to take back to casting directors in New York. ”You think of New York and Broadway and all of the heavy-hitting theater towns in America, and I'm putting Lexington, Kentucky, right up there.“

Nearing the end of the workshop, Bundy said she ”definitely“ could see some potential Broadway performers in the classes.

There even could have been some future Tony Award nominees in those rooms.

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