A penchant for pink
An all-singing, all-dancing and impeccably manicured show is about to hit our national theatre. Legally Blonde is in town. David Schembri speaks to lead actress Jo Caruana on being blonde.
Jo Caruana isn’t a natural blonde. But there was no law stopping her from taking her “progressively lighter” hair to an even lighter colour for her starring role in Legally Blonde, so her shoulder-length locks are now so fair that she thinks her friends (for whom she’s actually known as ‘the blonde’) are shocked to see her that, well, blonde.
As the title of the musical might suggest, any shade other than blonde on the protagonist’s head would have been amiss. Caruana is playing Elle Woods, a blonde sorority queen with a penchant for pink and a chihuahua always in tow.
She follows her ex-boyfriend Warner into Harvard Law in an attempt to get him back and achieves all this to song and dance. Did Jo fit into Elle’s high-heeled shoes easily? Or did she need to draw upon her years of acting experience to get into the part?
“I absolutely adore Elle... she’s the kind of girl that lights up every room. I wish I had her confidence and the go-get-it attitude she throws at her love life. I guess I am like that in some ways, mostly when it comes to my career, but it’s not always easy to be the girl standing out front and smiling through it all,” Caruana says.
“As a result, she’s taught me a thing or two, and the song Positive has come in very handy throughout the rehearsing process – especially when the going got that little bit too challenging on the song and dance fronts. It is a huge show and I’ve had to climb a few ladders to keep up.
“I suppose, for some things – like the accent – I’m calling on experience. But for others, like the love of pink, dogs and following your heart – well, they come easy,” she says.
Caruana’s enthusiasm for the musical is evident – she gushes about the songs. “The opening number, Omigod, which I sing with the girls, is just about the best musical entrance that any actress could hope for.”
Although she lists her duet with Emmett (John Montanaro) as one of her favourite points in the musical (“a lovely song”), her allegiances are less with her male – scratch that, human – co-stars and more within the canine camp.
“I get to work with a gorgeous Chihuahua called Waffles – I’m terrified he’s going to wander off, but he’s too cute for anyone to care. He’s definitely the best co-star ever – sorry John and Daniel (who’s playing Warner), you’ve been replaced!”
But this rose-tinted view of the musical hasn’t always been the case with the actress (a writer and editor by day), who has trodden the boards for a smorgasbord of productions, ranging from Unifaun’s Equus to an assortment of princesses in the various pantos, including last year’s Ali Baba at the Manoel Theatre.
“I remember spotting the posters for the show and wondering why on earth they were making a musical about that. I avoided it for ages until a friend of mine dragged me to see it and I literally found myself in the foyer kicking and screaming. But I sat through it... and the next day I went back to watch the matinée performance and the evening performance.”
She has since been to watch it a further 10 times, presumably for research purposes. That’s got to be a record, right? Sadly, getting ready to sing and dance for 18 numbers practically non-stop does not stop at wolfing down a baker’s dozen of showings, and Caruana admits she had to step up her game a notch or two to do her role justice.
“I’ve been training vocally with Cathy Lawlor since January and with Denise Mulholland since August, and April saw us kick off fitness rehearsals – the stamina required is unbelievable – and actual choreography just shortly afterwards. It has been a mammoth task and I don’t think anyone on the team foresaw quite what we were taking on. It really is a massive show. But the results are fantastic and we leave every rehearsal upbeat, because the numbers are such fun and the atmosphere so electric. I really can’t wait to see it all come together now. Everyone has worked so hard and the final results are bound to reflect that.”
Set in an Ivy League university (or college, as they would have it), Elle’s student life is worlds apart from any student toiling away at Tal-Qroqq.
Caruana went to university in Edinburgh, “which was absolutely fantastic. We didn’t have the whole sorority thing, but I did live with four girls in a big, crazy apartment where there was never a dull moment. So I suppose I did experience that amazing bond of friendship that stems from being so young and experiencing so many new and exciting things together”.
She worked very hard at university, both at school itself and at her job (she was a nanny). She loved every minute of it because it was a challenge – “and like I’ve said, I’ll take any challenge. My university friends there are still some of my best friends today and, like Elle, I understand the value of that”.
Caruana is quick to add that she did not, however, get accepted into an Ivy League university by singing about love or by completing a rather impressive dance sequence. Maybe next time.
Asked how blonde she is on a scale of one to 10 (one being Margaret Thatcher, 10 being Paris Hilton), Caruana thinks she’s “about a four – but I’m inclined to say it’s gone up a point or two since I took on this part... Lately, I’ve heard myself uttering some really dumb things and found myself stopping to wonder who said that? Perhaps it’ll wear off after November...”
Legally Blonde is running on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and November 16, 17 and 18 at the Manoel Theatre. Tickets are available online and from the box office.