21st June 2022
Photographer & Editor-in-chief: Owen James Vincent
Stylist & Art Director: Rory Mcnerney
Stylist Assistant: Oliver Slade
Clothes Designer: Corey Dixon / Somebody Else's Guy
Make Up Artist & Nails: Rita Nieddu
Make Up Artist Assistant: Juste Vaskeviciute
Hair: Lucy Muyanga
Interview: Tadek Chmiel
Logo Design: Emily Curtis
Assistant & Videographer: Joe Reed
Jewellery: Lucy Quartermaine & We Are PR
Shoes: ATIKA London
Courtney Bowman is currently treading the boards as the lead role of Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” at The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, a production which has purposefully thrown out stale casting tropes in favour of performers who wouldn’t necessarily have fit the casting breakdown for previous iterations of the musical. Prior to landing the role of Elle, she also spent time in “SIX”, a musical known for its global success and dedicated fans. We caught up with Courtney to chat about her journey with “Legally Blonde”, the challenges it has posed and why she thinks this production has resonated so deeply with its audiences.
Let’s talk Legally Blonde. Elle Woods is such a mammoth triple threat role and one that has become iconic in the musical theatre cannon. What were you most excited about when approaching the role?
Just being able to revamp it, retell the story and the changes that we made so it’s more accessible and more relatable to a 2022 audience, I was so thrilled to do that. Also, to implement myself and my humour into Elle, because I do like to marry my characters, whoever I play. Also, to be able to tell a story which is completely different to the 2009 production, and there really is the addition of British humour in there because we’ve all created this together and they (the original writers) have been so fantastic by letting us have changes.
I have to say, your casting as Elle and the casting for Legally Blonde in general is such a breath of fresh air and it’s quite frankly long overdue for the industry to be acknowledging the full range of diverse talent on offer. This production has proved that traditional casting expectations of a character do not have to be adhered to for the sentiment at the heart of a musical to ring true. How do you think letting go of these casting restraints has positively impacted this production of Legally Blonde?
It hopefully opens the eyes of other casting directors, but more so helps people who do not see themselves in theatre at all, come in and actually see themselves. When people come and tell me how they enjoyed the show, the first thing they always say is, “I can see myself on stage now and you make me want to do this” or, “you make me want to be in theatre”, not necessarily as an actor, but they want to do hair or costume for example. Breaking that barrier is tough because obviously I’m the first POC Elle Woods and it’s not been a smooth journey, but the journey to change is never going to be smooth and that’s something that my wonderful Emmett, Michael Ahomka-Lindsay reminds me of every day, as does Isaac. Also, for me, if you take Nadine (Higgin) for example, who plays Paulette, to me personally it makes so much more sense that Paulette is black. A friend of mine came yesterday and said, I don’t understand why she wasn’t originally, and the same with Elle and Emmett. The show is fun and upbeat and so feel good, but it adds another dimension to the story and then makes you feel even more uplifted because of the weight the character carries, simply because they’re a different colour or different weight or sexuality. It’s not absolutely outrageous that Elle is a person of colour, so when you do get the backlash and the people that say, “well she’s black, she can’t be blonde”, google it. There are black women who are naturally blonde.
Before playing Elle, you have previously been in Six the musical which is a phenomenon in of itself and has had an influence on social media platforms, tiktok and Instagram in particular, in a way that we haven’t really seen a musical have before. Did that add any pressure to the job, and do you see social media as a positive influence on the musical theatre industry?
Do you know what, for me initially, it wasn’t the best start because…people have opinions. Opinions are like arse holes, everybody has one, but it was quite tough at the start and for that reason I would say social media is a negative for musical theatre. However, publicity wise and for making theatre far more accessible for audiences that can’t necessarily afford a ticket, I think social media is absolutely sensational. For new writing as well, something like “SIX” might not have taken off in the way it did without it. It would have done well but it’s obviously a massive phenomenon and thanks to that, hopefully Legally Blonde will stir up a similar excitement.
In 10 years’ time, what changes would you like to have seen within the musical theatre industry?
I would like to see the change that we as a group are making today to not be so outrageous. For people to go, “Great, we’ve got a black Matilda” or “Great, we have an Asian Oliver, cool” … well actually, not even “cool”, just no need to comment on it! Also, to make sure that theatre is so much more accessible to everyone and shows a true representation of the world we’re in today. That’s what I want to see in 10 years’ time, that we keep making sure that everybody is being seen without it being such an outrage and without people being awful about it. World peace!