TRAVERSE CITY — Abbey Kaufman is blonde and blue-eyed, but the similarities to the ditzy heroine of “Legally Blonde” end there.
“I’ve never been the dumb girl in class or the dumb blonde,” said Kaufman, star of “Legally Blonde The Musical,” opening at the Old Town Playhouse today, March 1.
Based on the novel and popular movie adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon, the show revolves around attractive blonde sorority girl Elle Woods — did we mention she’s from California? — who attends Harvard Law School to rekindle a romance with student ex-boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Derek Woodruff). Although superficially a stereotypical ‘dumb blonde,’ Woods eventually earns the respect of her peers — and a Juris Doctor degree — with her valley girl-style intelligence, her genuine concern for others and, of course, her trend-setting fashion sense and matching pink wardrobe.
For Kaufman, a fan of MTV’s “Legally Blonde” reality show in which singer-actresses competed to become the next Elle on Broadway, playing Woods is the role of a lifetime.
“I like her energy and the livliness of the show, and the humor. It’s something I really connect with,” said Kaufman, 17, a Traverse City Central High School senior. “I was a big fan of the movie when it came out and the musical was a big pick of mine for choosing audition songs.”
Despite her experience, which includes roles in Central productions of “Grease” and “Fiddler on the Roof” and several shows with the OTP Young Company, the actress said her first adult role at the community theater has been a “wake-up call.”
“The (actors) are so mature, they have so much experience under their belts. They’re practical, on time, professional,” said Kaufman, who had to dye her hair blonder and age 7 years for the show. “It’s hard to think these people are getting out of their day job and coming here. And it’s all volunteer, it’s not like they get paid. It makes you want to work harder to meet their expectations.”
Director Brett Nichols said Kaufman’s “trifecta of abilities” and overall energy made her the one to cast in the leading role. Besides earnestly delivering silly lines, she and the others — including Riley Phoenix as teaching assistant and eventual fiance Emmett Forrest and Minda Nyquist as spunky beautician Paulette Bonafonte — have to sing and dance their way through numbers like “Omigod You Guys” and “Whipped Into Shape.” Backing them are an orchestra and a rock band conducted by Music Director Joe Rice.
“It’s a very high-energy show,” said Nichols, whose wife, Kristina Nichols, is choreographer and also has a role in the show. “It makes it a lot of fun and really easy to watch.”
Nichols said he’s drawn to upbeat, large-cast shows. But it’s “Legally Blonde’s” storyline and important message — delivered with healthy doses of humor and irony — that ultimately sold him on this one.
“It’s about acceptance,” he said. “The nice thing about Elle Woods is that she sees people for who they are, and she does it naturally. And she comes to see herself as someone who’s capable of more than she ever had the opportunity to be — or gave herself the opportunity to be.”
The two-act show runs through March 23 on the OTP MainStage. Evening performances start at 7:30 p.m., matinees at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and students (Thursdays and Sundays) and $14 for children at oldtownplayhouse.com.