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There’s no place like home

For the multi-talented Bracken Burns, playing the lead part of Elle Woods in Stage West’s production of Legally Blonde: The Musical is the perfect way to return to theatre after a three-year hiatus.

“It’s a dream role,” she said.

Burns’s hiatus was due mostly to wanting to try her hand at film and television.

She spent six years in the United Kingdom, and said she came back to Canada largely because there’s a stigma there against musical theatre performers auditioning for film. 

When she found out about the auditions for Legally Blondewhile living in Toronto, she told her agent she wanted to be considered.

Legally Blonde: The Musical, based off the movie starring Reese Witherspoon, follows Elle as she follows her ex-boyfriend, Warner, from Malibu to Harvard Law School, where she sets off to prove to him she can be the “serious” girl he said he was looking for when he broke up with her.

Legally Blonde is an extremely high-energy show. All the characters are larger-than-life, and the actors are required to perform full-out dance routines while singing. Burns also said that the musical’s score is one of her all-time favourites.

The multi-talented Bracken Burns, playing the lead part of Elle Woods in Stage West’s production of Legally Blonde: The Musical. Image courtesy of Burns.

“You can’t come in tired. You have to get the energy from somewhere or else the show just dies.”

Burns says she got a gym membership as soon as she was cast in late 2017, knowing that the show required her to be in top physical shape.

Elle Woods is a three-dimensional character, says Burns, adding that she’s “really girly, but she’s also really smart.”  

“I like to think that there are parallels in my life,” laughs Burns, who originally studied physics in university before switching to theatre.

Burns says her favourite song from the show, So Much Better, is a perfect “girl’s show-off song.”

“If you can sing that, you can sing anything. I love that I get to do that onstage.”

Laura Bell Bundy, the original Elle Woods on Broadway, notoriously took a large breath in the middle of the challenging last note of the song, says Burns.

Burns thinks of that every time she prepares to sing that note, knowing that any musical theatre aficionados in the audience will be waiting to see if she can sustain the note all the way through, which, luckily, she has managed to do every time.

Managing her vocal stamina and avoiding vocal fatigue has been the most challenging part of this production, says Burns.

“{Elle} talks in such a high, squealy tone a lot, and she sings for two hours straight,” says Burns.

That’s a lot to handle at eight shows a week, she adds.

Burns doesn’t go out after her performances, nor has she been drinking at all during the run of the show.

“I just have to be very focused on vocal health, and I have to put it first,” she says.

She wasn’t initially given an audition; in fact, it took non-stop pestering from Burns’ agent before Burns finally secured her spot, and two rigorous call-backs before she was cast.

“One dance call was like 45 girls all kicking themselves in the face,” laughs Burns. “It was pretty intense.”

In an Elle Woods move pulled straight from the musical, Burns scented her resume during the first round of auditions, which she later discovered helped her earn the part.

“You just have to stand out when there are that many people.”

Burns, who was born in Edmonton and grew up in Peace River, moved to Glasgow in 2010 to attend the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) after graduating from MacEwan University’s theatre arts program, and she remained in the UK until 2016, when she moved to Toronto.

Since her last theatre show – a European tour of Saturday Night Fever– Burns has done voiceover work for Ubisoft video games and the animated series People Watching, appeared in the CBC series Frankie Drake Mysteries, produced films with her company Blahzay Creative, and taught at the prestigious Big Voice Studios in Toronto, among other artistic pursuits.

A musical Burns worked on in the United Kingdom, Wasted Love, is in the process of becoming a television series. Burns will be returning to the UK soon after Legally Blondeto star in that project.

All of Burns’ creative occupations offer something different.

Of theatre, she says it’s “infinitely harder” than film because one has to continue to perform correctly every single night.

But the struggle is not without its rewards.

“Having the cast of {a musical}, and having that little family for a couple of months, is the ‘creme de la creme.’ It is the best of all art forms.”

Burns has high praise for all of her fellow cast members.

“I think that’s the biggest thing I’ll take away: getting to play with such incredible actors every night.”

Legally Blonde runs at Stage West in Calgary until June 24.





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