Legally Blonde star gets set for a trans­for­ma­tion

> BY JANET SMITH

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

Mu­si­cal-theatre fans know Julia Ull­rich for iconic brunette roles—parts like the dark, tor­mented teen Veronica in Fight­ing Chance Pro­duc­tions’ Heathers: The Mu­si­cal or the cock­ney flower-girl-cum-gen­tle­woman El­iza Doolit­tle in Royal City Mu­si­cal Theatre’s My Fair Lady last year.

It’s true: Ull­rich is blessed with long, chest­nut tresses. Which makes it a lit­tle bit of a stretch for her to take on Elle Woods—the ridicu­lously chip­per, and fa­mously plat­inum-maned, L.A. soror­ity gal/shopa­holic in Legally Blonde: The Mu­si­cal. In the over-thetop show based on the hit 2001 Reese Wither­spoon movie, Elle fol­lows her ex-boyfriend to Har­vard Law School when he de­cides she’s not se­ri­ous or in­tel­lec­tual enough for him.

“It’s a bit tough to do,” ad­mits Ull­rich, ex­plain­ing she’ll be wear­ing a long blond wig for the pro­duc­tion. She’s speak­ing to the Straight over the phone on a lunch break at a lo­cal high school, where she’s just taught a ju­nior drama class—her day job. She says putting on the plat­inum mane changes the way she talks and moves. Like, omigod: “I just ex­ude more con­fi­dence and you feel like peo­ple are watch­ing you. It feels less like me and more like her.”

So who does Ull­rich her­self feel closer to? She ad­mits it’s Veronica, the lead in Heathers: The Mu­si­cal, by Broad­way-hit writer Lau­rence O’keefe, who also adapted Legally Blonde for the stage. “Veronica is very much earthy and awk­ward—a lot more like me,” ex­plains Ull­rich, who trained in Capi­lano Univer­sity’s mu­si­cal-theatre program be­fore head­ing to UBC to study act­ing and then ed­u­ca­tion. “I’m not that kind of a girly-girl. I don’t re­ally feel like this Val­ley Girl. But all the other girls are great—the ones who play my three friends are su­per peppy and that helps a lot.”

Still, the experience of Heathers has helped Ull­rich adapt to O’keefe’s pow­er­house, pop-rock-amped songs— ones that are more dif­fi­cult than it might at first ap­pear.

“They’re com­posed by the same peo­ple, so the mu­si­cal styles are sim­i­lar: both [Heathers and Legally Blonde] have huge, belty songs,” Ull­rich says. “And both my char­ac­ters are very much in every scene. It’s very vo­cally chal­leng­ing. And Elle is su­per out­go­ing—larger than life.”

Adding to the com­plex­ity is the fact that Ull­rich is joined on-stage by Elle’s ever-present Chi­huahua, Bruiser—played here by a Port Moody ca­nine named Molly. The ac­tor is just get­ting to know the pint-sized pooch her char­ac­ter fa­mously car­ries around ev­ery­where and dresses in its own de­signer out­fits: “We’re not sure how ex­cited she’s go­ing to be on-stage yet,” she says with a laugh.

The show’s over-the-top an­tics ex­tend to the sets for this Align En­ter­tain­ment pro­duc­tion, Ull­rich says, adding it’s a full stag­ing with a live band. “You can’t get away from the fact that there’s a soror­ity house and Har­vard—and it’s go­ing to be in­cred­i­bly pink.”

Yet, amid all the lev­ity, pas­tel hues, and de­signer purses, Ull­rich is learn­ing not only to love her songs and her char­ac­ter, but to re­spect the mes­sages the mu­si­cal ul­ti­mately puts forth.

“I re­ally just ap­pre­ci­ate Elle’s jour­ney,” she says. “She starts off as a su­per priv­i­leged per­son. Near the be­gin­ning she says, ‘See, dreams re­ally do come true. You never have to com­pro­mise.’ ”

But then her char­ac­ter grad­u­ally sees that life isn’t all rosy and that she should em­brace her brainier self: “She learns that if you are re­ally de­ter­mined you can suc­ceed,” Ull­rich says.

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