There’s a bit of irony for some actresses who perform the lead role in “Legally Blonde,” in which an intelligent young woman battles against the stereotype of being blonde and considers whether a change in hair color might benefit her career prospects.
Courtney Hammond, who plays Elle Woods in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical” (opening today at the Harriet Jorgensen Theatre) says she has reversed part of the show’s theme of playing against stereotype while working in an industry where appearance is a primary consideration for obtaining work.
“I’m naturally a dark brunette,” says Hammond, an actress, singer, and dancer who earned her degree from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. “When I first got out of school, I wasn’t booking anything. I bleached my hair two years ago just to see what would happen and I immediately started booking jobs, which is weird because in shows they’ll put a blonde wig on you anyway. In my industry, I got more jobs as a blonde, even though I’m the exact same person as a brunette.”
As she related that story earlier this month at the UConn Women’s Center during a panel discussion on how professional women are viewed in popular culture, Hammond drew smiles from the mostly student audience.
“Elle Woods is the opposite, a blonde not being taken seriously simply because of her hair color even though she is highly intelligent, very determined, very optimistic, and an idealist,” she says. “They just see her hair color. She talks about going brunette, thinking that’s going to change things, when really what the play is about is that your appearance shouldn’t matter. It should be about who you are.”
Hammond says the role of Woods presents her with the challenge of taking on a character and storyline that is likely to be familiar to the audience because of the popular film.
“There is a preconceived notion of who the character is, and what the story is,” she says. “Elle is really fun because she can be so individual. Every actor is going to bring something different to it. I know I am different than some of the other girls who have been in it.”
The young actress brings a varied background in commercials, television, film, and theater to Storrs, including roles in national touring productions with Theatreworks USA, on television with Nickelodeon Studios, Disney Channel, and Sesame Street, and with the Collaborative Arts Project (CAP21).
She says she is enjoying the opportunity to work with students in the Department of Dramatic Arts.
“I was excited to find CRT works so closely with the University, because teaching is something I love to do,” says Hammond. “I do children’s theater in the summer. It’s great to work with people coming into their own. The students here had their showcase and it was really great to be around that energy again. I think CRT is unique in that way. I’m probably closer in age to them than most of the Equity people who perform at CRT.”
She compares her interaction with students to the dynamic between seniors and freshmen. “I think they’re comfortable with me and that’s been really fun. They like to hang out after rehearsal. They still want to ask questions. I feel kind of funny giving advice to them, but I do realize that I have some experience I can share.”
Hammond recently handled a leading female role in an NCL/Breakaway production of “Rock of Ages,” but her responsibilities for “Legally Blonde” go further, as the lead of the entire production.
“As Elle, it’s a lot of work,” she says. “There’s a lot of elements – dancing, singing, and acting. There’s a lot of pressure, to know my name is going to be in big bright lights. It’s scary, but it’s great.”
The Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical” continues through May 4 at the Harriet Jorgensen Theatre. For more information visit the CRT website.