For more than two years, Becky Gulsvig has traveled this country and Canada as Elle Woods, the perky heroine of “Legally Blonde – The Musical.” She loves the role and regrets that the national tour will end after the final performance at Wolf Trap on Sunday evening, August 15. The bad news is that the all-Equity cast will be replaced by non-Equity actors assembled in Mississippi to resume touring in early autumn. The good news is that Gulsvig can go home to New York and recharge her batteries before her next turn on the stage.
Gulsvig grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota next door to Fargo, North Dakota, an unlikely nurturing place for an aspiring Broadway singer and fervent fan of movie musicals. But fate stepped in during the fourth grade when a family friend alerted her to an audition for “Annie” at a local theater. Armed with tap and ballet lessons, a lovely voice and a winsome personality, she captured the lead role.
From Wendy in the national tour of “Peter Pan,” Gulsvig advanced to Broadway as Amber Von Tussle in “Hairspray.” At the urging of the show’s Tony Award and Drama Desk-winning choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, she auditioned for “Legally Blonde…” and was invited to take part in the 2006 workshop. The upshot was that she was chosen as understudy for Elle in the original production. Having replaced the lead on Broadway many times, she was the perfect choice to play Elle on the national tour.
She is enthusiastic about the show’s ability to offer the audience escape with lots of laughs and she loves seeing young people come to the theater. Most of all, she is delighted to inspire shy little girls who look to Elle for proof that someone who is underestimated by many can achieve nearly insurmountable goals through determination.
Along with the exuberant dancing and singing by Elle and her Delta Nu sorority sisters (their presence created by the original screen writer who drew on her own sorority experiences at James Madison University), everyone in the audience is fixated on the dogs, Elle’s cuddly Chihuahua Bruiser and Paulette’s English bulldog Rufus. There are actually four dogs in the cast. Frankie, the star Chihuahua, is covered by understudy Roxie, while Nellie trots on stage as Rufus. She is so reliable that Lewis, her understudy, still waits in the wings panting for an opportunity to replace her. All were rescued from animal shelters by dog trainer Bill Berloni whose expertise in developing four-footed actors harks back 30 years to the first Sandy for “Annie.” Throughout the tour of many thousand miles, the Chihuahuas have been managed by handler Marjorie Fitzsimmons and the bulldogs by Rob Cox. Quick studies, the dogs respond to both verbal and visual cues and are loved by the entire cast.
Looking to the future, Gulsvig is not especially interested in originating a role because of the long road from concept to stage. A quick study capable of learning a new role within two weeks, she would prefer replacing performers in a classic musical or such current hits as “Wicked, “Rock of Ages” and “Mamma Mia!” With regret, she will say goodbye to cast and crew after Wolf Trap but will cherish forever the joy of playing Elle.
“The show always puts a smile on everyone’s face,” she said. “They adore the pink, sparkly passages and leave remembering that you must never underestimate yourself.”