Beyond the Blonde: Meet SMUS’s Lead Actors

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After months of hard work, our Senior School presentation of Legally Blonde: the Musical opens tonight! Students, staff, parents and volunteers have been at it since the fall, getting everything ready for the show’s four performances February 26-28.

The main role of Elle Woods, made famous by Reese Witherspoon in the 2001 film, was double-cast at SMUS, with Grade 10 student Sierra Dunbar and Grade 11 student Josie Tamburri both playing the part.

Interestingly enough, despite sharing the lead role duties, Sierra and Josie come from nearly opposite performance backgrounds. Josie is a longtime performer (a competitive dancer, singer and SMUS musical alumnus), while this will be the first time in five years that Sierra performs on stage (not since being in a musical as a Grade 5 student).

The SMUS Review sat down with the two lead actors to talk about their experience in the musical.

Tell me about Legally Blonde: the Musical.
Sierra – Elle is seen as a ditsy blonde, and that’s what everyone thinks, including the guy she thought she was going to marry, who says, ‘You’re not very serious in life. I can’t be with you.’ So the show is more about Elle trying to prove everyone wrong, and showing you can be beautiful and smart.

Had you seen the musical or the movie before getting the role?
Josie – Oh yeah, Legally Blonde‘s been a favourite movie of mine ever since I was a little girl. I was blonde-haired and I loved California, it was the absolute most perfect movie for me. There’s a blonde woman who was independent and smart; even from a young age I could tell she was a force to be reckoned with. And I went to see the musical last summer in Vancouver at Theater Under the Stars. As a person who loves theatre and singing, and I love Legally Blonde, it was the best combination ever!

What is the character of Elle like?
Sierra – Elle starts off at UCLA; she’s sorority, she’s homecoming queen, she’s majoring in fashion merchandising and she doesn’t seem to have a SMUS-SS-LegallyBlonde-Ssense of direction. As the musical goes on she develops; she becomes more serious, she starts to work harder to prove people wrong. She really grows as a character through the musical.

Josie – She’s all about love. She loves to shop, she thinks she can do anything because of love, she thinks she can get into Harvard because she’s in love. And then she starts to realize that she needs to put effort into showing she’s a serious person. She breaks stereotypes, and by the end of the show she is so different, but also still maintains her Elle personality. This is one of my dream roles. I have a few roles that I have to play before I’m older, and Elle is definitely on the very top of my list. I’m in my element, I’m in pink, I’m in glitter, I’m blonde, I’m singing and I’m dancing.

How do you two play the role differently?
Sierra – Josie had seen the musical before, so I think she went in knowing what she wanted to do, and I had no clue. I’ve definitely learned a lot from her and the Elle she created and the twist she put on it. You really can never have two people play a character the same way.

Josie – I feel like my Elle is a bit more dramatic. I’m definitely not afraid to be loud or to make myself look like a fool. Sierra does an amazing job because she’s a more sincere and kind Elle, where I’m the more melodramatic one. I love watching what she does because I get to see another side of Elle from her perspective.

What’s it like for you being on stage in a lead role?
Josie – I’ve been dancing since I was almost 3, and I’ve been singing for five or six years now, so being on stage is nothing new to me. I love being on stage; I’m a true performer. Broadway is the goal one day; it has been ever since I was young. The stage is my home. Theatre brings out the most amazing things for people. I find myself awkward in social situations, but the musical gives me confidence to be who I’m not afraid to be.

Sierra – I hadn’t done a proper musical since fifth grade, and I did that mostly because it was mandatory. For me, that’s meant just getting comfortable on stage has been a challenge. But everyone has been super supportive; the cast was really patient with me, and having everyone around be so supportive made it much easier. At the beginning, working on the character of Elle, it was tough because she’s so girly and squealy and outrageous, so I need to be really crazy on stage.

What has the experience been like performing in a SMUS musical?
Sierra – I was quite scared at the beginning, but as time went on and rehearsals became more frequent, you get so much closer to the cast just by working with each other. Working with Josie – we spend every rehearsal together, we sit together in chorus – we became really good friends. The best part of being in the musical, I think, is all of the people you meet. For me, working with them has given me more confidence in the arts, and I definitely want to go on with the musicals again.

Josie – The calibre of the performances here is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. We have really great teachers and staff and volunteers who put together amazing sets and costumes and props. And we get to perform at the Mac, which is awesome. It gives students who really love to perform a chance to shine and have a great opportunity.

Had you participated in a SMUS musical before?
Josie –  Ever since I’ve been coming to SMUS I’ve been immersing myself in any kind of musical outlets. I came in Grade 8 on an off year, so I just did chapel singing, singing in assemblys, choir, band – anything musical I was a part of. And in high school I do as much as I can SMUS-SS-LegallyBlonde-Jevery year: choir, band, musical, arts council, acoustic concerts. I was in The Secret Garden and Spamalot.

Sierra – For Spamalot I did hair and makeup backstage, so I saw a whole other side of it I’d never seen before. And I went to see Guys and Dolls in Grade 8 before I came to the school. I was blown away! It’s still just so overwhelming thinking about how much effort everyone puts into the show; no one does a musical like SMUS!

What’s your favourite musical number to perform?
Sierra – Probably “Legally Blonde”. It’s a really nice ballad between Emmett and Elle. It’s the only song without chorus, so it’s just the two of us. It’s super raw, and it’s just a really pretty song.

Josie – “What You Want”. It’s a huge number, but it’s so funny because this is when she tries to get in to Harvard and she convinces them with passionate love and her ethnic dancing, which is really fun to do.

How are you feeling ahead of opening night?
Josie – There’s a big part of me that’s very nervous and another that’s excited. I’m the one performing on opening night, I’m the first one people will see. I’m fine with the lyrics and the dancing, but the musical’s underscored with so much music that I have to be perfect with my lines, every single word, because if I mess up I might not give the conductor his cue, so that’s nerve-wracking.

Sierra – So nervous. I walk around the halls and that’s all I think about: what am I going to do on stage; how am I going to do all my costume changes. I just want that all to go smoothly.

Why should people come see Legally Blonde?
Sierra – It’s not a musical where you’re going to leave feeling heavy or pondering big life questions. It’s a happy and uplifting musical. It’s so much fun; there’s a lot of humour in it, and lots of great singing and dancing.

JosieLegally Blonde is the most empowering, yet still hilarious musical you will ever come across. It’s just a musical where anyone can go and watch it, and come back and be happy that you did. It shows that you don’t have to live up to the stereotypes you’re given: if you’re a blonde Californian who wants to be a lawyer, or if you’re someone from Victoria who wants to be on Broadway, even though you’re in high school – anything’s possible as long as you strive for it.

Tickets for all four performances of the show are available online.

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Kyle Slavin
Kyle Slavin is the school's storyteller. Through words and photos, he shares with the community all the amazing things that happen on campus.

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