Paul Canaan was a cast member in the ensemble of Legally Blonde -- The Musical and served as a judge on Legally Blonde The Musical -- The Search for Elle Woods. He and Blonde star Laura Bell Bundy bring their Take It From the Top worshop to Lexington July 28 and 29. Photo by Jason Gillman.
Participants in the Take It From the Top workshops July 28 and 29 might be longing to have instructor Paul Canaan watch them and declare, “That’s a hiiit!”
In the eight weeks Canaan was a judge on the MTV reality series Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods, he developed the affirmation into a personal trademark.
Like Legally Blonde’s star, Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy, Canaan has wrapped up his gig in the ensemble of the hit Broadway musical. Working on the show, Bundy and Canaan formed a strong friendship that has turned into a professional partnership with Take It From the Top, classes they have already presented in New York and will present around the country.
“My passion is teaching,” Canaan says, enjoying a day off at Legally Blonde director Jerry Mitchell’s beach house on New York’s Fire Island. “With arts education being cut in the schools, it was important to us to look at new ways to reach kids.”
Bundy says Canaan “is such a fantastic teacher, and he’s great with kids. He can see potential in a kid and pull that out. He helps people feel comfortable.”
That was also one of his roles on the reality series, which tapped South Carolinian Bailey Hanks to succeed Bundy as Elle Woods.
“Ultimately Jerry Mitchell had the say,” Canaan says of the show’s finale, which was taped in March though it aired on MTV on Monday, two nights before Hanks debuted in the role. “We said, ‘We’re not going to find another Laura Bell Bundy, so let’s find an Elle,’ and Bailey is Elle, completely. With her spirit and spunk, she’s innately an Elle Woods.”
Canaan says watching the finale was “kind of bizarre because Bailey has come such a long way from where she was when we filmed that.”
Canaan says Hanks will be a different Elle from Bundy.
“She’s younger than Laura Bell. She’s a little more innocent. Laura’s very smart, and she really can’t hide that. Bailey’s smart, too, but Bailey is younger, and she has an innocence about her.”
For Bundy’s part, Canaan says, “I have never seen a star be so open to a process like that. Laura was so giving and really took Bailey under her arm and tried to help her out. That was great to see, because she originated this and owned it for so long, and many other girls would have just said, ‘Good luck.’”
Canaan says he and the others involved were curious as to what the show would be like, because they were in the stage business, not TV. There was some nervousness, Canaan says, about editing, because the rap on reality shows is that they are often edited to portray people in certain ways.
“Fortunately, as judges, they had no reason to make us look stupid,” says Canaan, who served as a judge along with casting director Bernie Telsey and Blonde book writer Heather Hach.
The judges didn’t really see the 10 competitors outside the rehearsal theater where the weekly auditions took place, so he can’t speak to how the overall show was edited. But based on what happened in front of him, Canaan says, “The girls were all a lot more talented than [the show’s editors] actually showed. If they cracked or they messed up, that’s what they showed, because they thought that would be the juicy thing.”
In particular, he thought contestant Celina Carvajal was portrayed as “kooky and quirky,” not really revealing how talented she is.
But overall, Canaan says, “The producers did a really good job,” and that the show was good for Blonde and Broadway in general.
“People loved the show, they loved the girls, they loved the process,” he says. “Broadway has never seen something like this before. Broadway doesn’t hit TV every day. Legally Blonde has been able to reach out to people who would never be into something like that and let them see the process. I loved that aspect, and that middle America can learn about professional theater that way.”
And as he goes into future endeavors, thanks to the show, Canaan can take a good catch phrase with him.