The first story I wrote about Laura Bell Bundy was when she was when she played Dainty June in Gypsy at the Papermill Playhouse in Milburn, N.J. The second was when she played Lola in Lexington Catholic High School's production of Damn Yankees for her senior play in 1999. Way back then, we knew that the big dream for Laura was to star in a Broadway show, so it was quite surreal to see her rise through the Palace Theatre floor Friday night to applause that couldn't have been stronger if the theater was filled with Kentuckians -- there was a strong contingent from Woodford County High School that Laura met with after the show.
Then she proceeded to charge through a two-and-a-half hour dance marathon that made it obvious this show, Legally Blonde, was the creation of a gifted choreographer, Jerry Mitchell. One of the big deals about this weekend is that Legally Blonde gets officially reviewed by New York and national theater scribes, and Laura's performance will most certainly be closely dissected. So far, so good. The reviews from the San Francisco previews were strong, and while there have been no official reviews yet on Broadway, Laura's already nominated for two theater awards: Drama Desk and the Drama League's Legit awards. And there have been press comments such as London's Daily Mail, which called Laura, "a force of nature."
Regardless of what the theater scribes say, you get the feeling from the audience that this show is critic proof to a certain extent and will likely make Laura a marquee name. There was much laughter and even a few tears around me at Friday night's preview as Elle Woods made her journey from bubble-headed blonde punchline to formidable attorney, able to help a fellow bubble-headed blonde beat a murder wrap. And people were humming the tunes around me as we filed out of the theater: "Omigod, omigod you guys."
Going into the big weekend, the show has what they call mo' in sports.
That said, Laura is clearly exhausted from weeks of non-stop press and things like Friday morning's Today show performance, which was canceled, but still got Laura and the rest of the cast up at 4 a.m. I felt sort of guilty occupying her for a half-hour interview after Friday's show, especially knowing more than two-dozen family and friends were waiting around the corner for a precious few minutes with her. But it seems whenever Kentucky comes calling, Laura makes time, makes it happen, whether it's an ink-stained wretch or high school kids or Lexingtonians who camp out at the stage door. "I've got Big Blue pride," she says. And since those high school years, she has clearly matured, having a life and business savviness now that puts living the dream in perspective. (We will have more on our chat with Laura in tomorrow's Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com.) Living the dream can be a lot of hard work and exhausting, but it's still living the dream.