Broadway Features and Reviews
Laura Bell Bundy Drives On: Exclusive Profile
By Christopher Moore, Broadway Magazine
Laura Bell Bundy is on the go. Literally. The Tony-nominated Broadway star is driving on 65 North making her way from Nashville, where she'd just given a concert the night before, heading to a family gathering in Lexington, Kentucky. Most recently starring in the Broadway hit Legally Blonde, it has been less than three weeks since she left the production, handing her Elle Woods's shoes to Bailey Hanks, who was cast as Elle via an MTV reality program. In addition to her concerts, Laura has been working on her follow-up album to her country debut "Longing For a Place Already Gone," as well as conducting professional Broadway workshops around the country with Paul Caanan, who was a featured judge on the MTV series. Now, en route to Lexington, she takes an occasional look in the rearview mirror, but her eyes are clearly on the road ahead.
Laura first left Kentucky at the age of 9 when she was cast in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. She moved to New York with her mother, studied at the performing arts school, and at 10 found herself cast in the cult-classic musical Ruthless (her understudies included Britney Spears and Natalie Portman). "I was a gay man trapped in a little girl's body," says Laura, her voice smiling. Watching All About Eve, John Waters films, Gypsy, The Bad Seed, the experience in Ruthless taught her about comedic timing, and a likely a few other things as well. "There was a drag queen in the show," she remembers fondly. The show also brought Laura a Drama Desk Nomination. From Ruthless, she went on to play roles in Hairspray, Wicked, and then created the role of Elle Woods on Broadway in Legally Blonde.
"Wait, I just passed a police car..." she pauses, waiting to see if he's going to pull her over. He doesn't.
Given her impressive Broadway credentials, it may surprise some that she has such strong ties to Kentucky Bluegrass music. Her debut album was pure country, and her upcoming album will build upon her passion for traditional country music. Citing musical influences like Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Barbara Mandrell, Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline, Laura describes her songs as having a "throwback country style. It's what people would listen to when Country music was the Grand Ole Opry."
In addition to her mother, Laura speaks fondly of her Grandmother and Grandfather as having an influence in making her the success she is today. As a successful radio personality, her Grandfather wore many hats as a DJ, news broadcaster, meteorologist, and even co-host of a show with Kentucky basketball legend Coach Adolph Rupp. Laura recalls hearing her Grandfather playing Billie Holliday, Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline, and Rosemary Clooney.
In fact, Rosemary Clooney was a friend of Laura's grandmother, growing up in Maysville, Kentucky. "They used to sit together on a wooden bench at the train station and watch the trains come in. They'd just sit and watch the trains come in," Laura says. Growing up, Laura's mother was also playing music that would make a strong impact. "I can remember every single song from the 'Liza: Steppin Out,'" she laughs, remembering her continued listening.
These days, Laura is writing her own music. Is there a preference between performing in a Broadway musical or performing music she has written herself? "Both are about story-telling, about connecting with people emotionally," she says, adding, "the song-writing process is different. All songs come from your experience...and pain is the artist's muse. It's more vulnerable to be yourself on stage. It's scary because it's yourself. You can't hide behind a character." That said, she cites her Broadway experience for making her a stronger concert performer, "I'm comfortable on stage. I like to tell a story, write characters, and I have fun performing."
Ultimately, she feels it is most rewarding to hear that a song she has written has touched someone personally. "A great song is like a good friend. I think all artists write what people are thinking, but can't say, or are afraid to say," adds Laura.
Continuing her drive down 65 North, it makes sense to ask if she would like to combine her passions for performing and storytelling and write a Broadway musical herself. "Absolutely," says Laura, not missing a beat, "I'm also getting into producing. Writing a musical, I would love to do that, but I would have to co-write. I'm more of a lyricist." She describes the working relationship of Legally Blonde's Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin as an example of how she'd envision working on a musical. For now though, her musical will have to wait, "I'm not ready to do that...yet," she says, driving on toward her Kentucky home.
No doubt, if past is prologue, what is ahead for Laura Bell Bundy will be unique, remarkable and highly entertaining. Clearly, she has more fun in store as she continues her journey along the highway that is her incredible career.
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