Traverse City Central High School senior Abbey Kaufman takes center stage as Elle Woods, the sweet, bubbly, sorority heroine of “Legally Blonde, The Musical,” a stage adaptation of the Broadway hit and film starring Reese Witherspoon.
The 17-year-old Kaufman beat out dozens of other young actresses to capture the lead role.The Express chatted with Kaufman—a sweet, soft-spoken girl, herself—to find out what it’s like to don pink and perform with an older cast.
NE: Describe your audition. What was the competition like?
Kaufman: I was only there for one of the two nights of auditions. There were probably, I’d say, 40 or so girls auditioning.
The songs we performed for auditions were completely optional. A while back I had found a song on YouTube while looking at performances by up-and-coming people on Broadway. There’s a guy who writes a lot of stuff for Broadway performers and I sang his song, “I’m A Star.” It’s basically about a girl in the audition process, and how hard she wants it, how hard she’ll work and risk it for one part. It was fitting for my situation.
NE: What is your experience with theater?
Kaufman: I started theater in 2007 with Old Town Playhouse Young Company. I was instantly hooked. I did 13 shows with the Young Company before switching to high school productions at TC Central, including “Fiddler on the Roof.” “Legally Blonde” is my first adult company show.
I used to sing in the dressing rooms before shows and the girls and I said we’d learn the newest shows and songs. “Legally Blonde” came out in 2007 and my friend said, ‘You’re the perfect Elle Woods!’ I kind of embraced that. I was hooked with the character, the energy of the show. It’s something I could really relate to.
NE: What similarities do you share with Elle?
Kauffman: She’s very optimistic and surrounds herself with different people and cultures.
Although she might not be the brightest bulb, she has a lot of passion for what she does and for people. She doesn’t have to be book smart. She has the ability to work well with people.
NE: What is the biggest difference between you two?
Kaufman: It’s a little difficult for me personally because Elle is at least 23 or 24 and being a 17-year-old, it’s hard to make that transition from 17 to 24.
NE: With this being your first adult company show, describe your “Legally Blonde” experience.
Kaufman: It’s been unlike any show I’ve done before. Everybody in this cast is older than me. I had to work a lot harder to work with them. It’s longer hours but everyone in the cast has been welcoming and complimentary from day one. That’s what’s super cool about our cast. There’s not going to be one stand-out person on the show.
NE: Do you plan on going into theater after high school?
Kaufman: I really wish I was going into theater. I’ve got a pretty great future ahead. I’m sure song and dance will always be a part of my life after college and high school.
I plan on becoming a teacher. I want to be a special education teacher.
NE: When you’re not in school or acting on stage, what else do you enjoy doing?
Kaufman: I haven’t been able to be outside as much as I like to be. I really like snowboarding and our school’s hockey games and basketball games. I’ve had to give up a few of those over the course of this play. I’m also active with the tennis team and choir.
NE: What can the audience expect from this show?
Kaufman: Definitely a lot of smiles, a lot of cute sorority sister type bits, but also expect drama and a lot of emotions. People will be able to connect with characters one way or another.
You’ll be cheering for people in the cast and you’ll be hating some other characters. The play is also full of little dogs, which is awesome.
NE: That must be fun performing with live animals. How has that been?
Kaufman: I’ve gotten peed on a few times. Annie—who plays (Elle’s dog) Bruiser—she’s so small. We’re up there in front of 400 people, for a little dog I’m sure it’s so traumatizing. When I’m singing I can feel her shaking sometimes. There’s no way this show could happen without these dogs in the cast. There’s no way you can pull off a fake dog or one in a carrier. We’re blessed to have that little puppy talent in TC.
Legally Blonde continues at the Old Town Playhouse in Traverse City on March 7-10, 14- 17 & 21-23. All shows start at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at oldtownplayhouse.com