"I had a really wonderful, I would say, short-lived career as a cheerleader," says Hannah Bonnett, who plays Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde: The Musical." After seeing her friends on the cheerleading squad audition for musicals in her hometown of Stewartsville, N.J., Bonnett thought it would be an easy transition from pompoms to curtain calls.
"I was sorely mistaken and learned that I was actually absolutely terrified to perform," but she says that the fear, hard work, and team aspect of putting on musical productions drew her in. "Sort of like Elle at the end of the day," she adds.
And like Elle, who has perky enthusiasm of a cheerleader and great friends who support her dream to go to Harvard, Bonnett says, "I had some really amazing mentors along the way who cultivated my talents and helped support me." Starting with her mother who allowed her to go from her Catholic middle school to a performing arts high school that was near home.
"From there, I was connected to a dance studio in New Jersey known as The Star Maker School. Thank you, Lisa Solak! She took me under her wing and signed me up for voice lessons and dance classes and helped me find my first manager and would help me with auditions in New York City. So even before I got to college, I was pretty well aware of how the industry was working. And I really was privileged to have my foot in the door."
And that hard work had a quick turnaround for the Pace University graduate.
"I graduated last year, pretty much during the pandemic, so to be able to be back performing full time and to be on a national tour? I couldn't be more grateful. It's truly a dream come true," she says of the role that put her on her first national tour and her biggest starring role to date. "I'm really excited to bring Elle [Woods] and this story across the country," she says.
While she loves the story and the actors who played the pink-clad valley girl before her, Bonnett says this production of "Legally Blonde" puts a a modern spin on the 11-year-old story.
"We're going to be bringing 'Legally Blonde,' but we're making it a bit different by bringing that 2022 perspective -- the post covid perspective, the #metoo movement, plus, our ensemble is a mix of a diverse group of amazing human beings," Bonnett says. "So I think we're bringing something special and new, not only to the character of Elle, but also to the entire production.
"We have a really amazing costume department, so the outfits are totally new age, and I definitely want to buy every single one of my costumes. ... They're absolutely fantastic, " she says. "We have really sat down and navigated the story. There's a really big moment that happens in the show with Elle when her professor comes on to her, and now that we're in 2022, we wanted to show and represent women's empowerment. Not to give any spoilers but there will be a series of technological effects, a lot of phones, Tiktok and Instagram moments, as well as showing this #metoo empowerment, and as the Delta Nus would say -- sisterhood team -- it's really, really great."
While the costumes and technology have changed since the early 2000s, Elle's story of perseverance in the face of doubt endures.
"I think that this story is an underdog story, and every single person in the world can relate to an underdog story, regardless of your race or your religion, or where you come from," Bonnett says. "At the core of it, it's somebody who has a dream and fights for that dream. And I think that message is so important, especially to younger audiences.
"Anybody can relate to the core values of this character. And I hope that we can inspire that same message to people across the country that if you work really hard and you have a dream, anything is truly possible."