J. Shane Mercer, Published April 25 2009
Moorhead native enjoying run as ditzy but determined Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde"
But before you say, “See what happens when you move to New York?” it’s only because the 26-year-old plays the lead in the national tour of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”
“Legally Blonde,” which is based on the hit film staring Reese Witherspoon, comes to the region Wednesday through May 10 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul. It centers on Elle Woods, a sorority girl and pink-loving fashion hound who sets her sights on getting into Harvard Law School.
“I like that even though it comes in a pink and frilly package, the message (of the show) is universal,” Gulsvig says while on tour with the show in North Carolina. “You know, staying true to yourself, following your dreams, not taking ‘no’ for an answer, not letting other people judge you.”
Gulsvig, an alumna of Trollwood Performing Arts School and the Moorhead High School theater program, moved to the Big Apple at the age of 17 to pursue her performing dreams. And, now, plenty of folks in the Fargo-Moorhead area are pretty pleased to hear that the hometown-girl-made-good is coming back to the area.
In fact, a group from Moorhead Public Schools, including students, teachers and other community members, purchased 165 tickets for the show. They’re taking three buses to the performance.
“Basically the whole main floor is going to be people from Moorhead going to support Becky,” says Brian Cole, who teaches orchestra at Horizon Middle School and directs the orchestra for Moorhead High School shows. Cole, one of the organizers of the group, says it’s “going to be quite the party.”
And, according to Jan Johnson, who manages group and corporate sales for the Ordway, a group from Fargo South High School bought 35 tickets and a group from West Fargo High snapped up 52.
“I heard this so many times: ‘Becky has a million friends. She has made no enemies. Everyone that knows Becky loves her. And they’re loyal to her; she’s loyal to them,’ ” Johnson says. “So that’s why she’s got this huge fan base in her area.”
Among the groups heading down from Fargo-Moorhead is a bunch from Trinity Lutheran in Moorhead, the church Gulsvig grew up in.
“What an opportunity,” says Lewin Clefisch, associate pastor in charge of senior adult ministry. “Just as soon as we heard that they were coming, we put the group together.”
Gulsvig says the Fargo-Moorhead area is “awesome” and “so supportive.”
“When I did ‘Peter Pan’ back in 2000, 2001, we came to Grand Forks for one night and it was a party,” she says. “So many people came up from Fargo-Moorhead. It was so great.
“It was such a great place to grow up and such a great place to start my love for theater.”
She’s not the only one who appreciates the local support.
“I think it’s fantastic, and believe me, she knows it, too,” says Kris Gulsvig, Becky’s father. “We’re not a huge metropolitan area, yet we’re not a small area. But I think, for the most part, we have a great small-town feel here still. We haven’t lost that.”
Kris says he and wife, Patty, are “100 percent groupies.”
“I think we’ll probably see it three times each weekend,” Kris Gulsvig says. “Can’t miss it. Really should probably see them all.”
But it’s not just the local folks who are taking notice of Gulsvig. Even though she says she doesn’t read them, Gulsvig is getting some good reviews from critics as well.
A Fort Meyers News-Press critic writes: “As the fashion-obsessed Elle, Gulsvig is the Valley Girl with the heart of gold, a perky, chirpy go-getter with a beaming smile. And, boy, can she sing. She wraps her helium voice around everything from the opening ‘Omigod You Guys’ to the final empowerment anthem, ‘Find My Way.’ ”
And a Providence Journal Web review reads: “Gulsvig is a petite 26-year-old from Minnesota, and as a package she’s got it all. She can belt, dance and summon a troubled expression when it looks like her hopes of becoming a lawyer are dashed.”
Of course, the ride hasn’t been completely bumpless. She was out of the show for six weeks after breaking her right big toe at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in January.
“I was in my slippers walking to the dressing room after bows and literally just slipped on the stairs,” she says. “(A)ll my weight went on my big toe. So I broke the toe and jammed the big knuckle, and it was a hot mess.”
Things are good now, however. The digit “healed well,” and she’s back on the road doing the normal, if not grueling, routine of eight shows a week.
“You have to get up and go to work; we have to do the show,” Gulsvig says. “And ultimately I get to play dress-up for a living so I can’t complain. You know, I get to make a really good living dancing around in costumes and wigs and just singing and dancing for a living, so it’s a real treat.”
And she says: “We do this because it’s what we love to do, but we also do it because people love to watch it. And so it’s really nice to be able to give people a smile and a laugh.”
Along with her work on the national tour of “Legally Blonde,” Gulsvig also served as understudy on the Broadway run of the show. She also played Broadway in “Hairspray” and the national tour of “Peter Pan.” She’s performed on ABC’s “All My Children” and was in a commercial for Verizon wireless.
As for where she goes from here, she says “I’ve gotten that question a couple of times, and I don’t have a good answer for that.
“This tour had been my goal for the last two years,” she says, “so I’m just sort of living in it and trying to enjoy it and then we’ll see.”
If you go
- What: “Legally Blonde: The Musical”
- When: Wednesday through May 10
- Where: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
- Tickets: Call (651) 224-4222 for ticket information. For group ticket information, call (651) 282-3111.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734