Ever since the world fell into Frozen-mania after the release of the Disney movie musical in the fall of 2013, Kristen Bell's musical-theater prowess (courtesy of Princess Anna) has finally been given the national platform that it rightly deserves.
A near-graduate of the musical-theater program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts (leaving a few credits shy of graduation to join the Broadway cast of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), Bell transplanted herself to Los Angeles where she rose to fame as TV's private investigator "Veronica Mars" and landed roles in a host of other popular films and television series. She is set to star in a three-day run of director Adam Shankman's production of Hair at the Hollywood Bowl (August 1-3), where she and her Hollywood "tribe"-mates will breathe new life into the rock-and-roll portrait of 1960s hippie culture.
In the midst of her whirlwind 10-day rehearsal period (which she is powering through while pregnant with her second child), Bell took time to chat with TheaterMania about returning to her musical-theater roots, singing Hair to her toddler, and coming back to Broadway in her dream role.
Have you ever put a show together this quickly?
No. [laughs] No humans have. It's not what humans are supposed to do. I think the effort extended by every single person involved in this production has made it a lot smoother than I anticipated. Especially in a show like this where there's such a sense of community onstage, there's not too much pressure on any one person and everyone has been really busting their butts.
How long has this been on your docket?
A couple months. Adam [Shankman] called me a while ago and asked if I was interested and I jumped at the chance. Then when I found out I was pregnant I obviously called him and offered him the chance to recast. As the director I believe that he should have the choice of whether or not his cast members are procreating during the rehearsal process. He thankfully said no.
Why was this project so immediately appealing to you?
Actors by nature are creative. Creativity by nature wanders. So to sign up for a production that's over in two and a half weeks is about the most desirable thing you can say to someone. There's no stagnancy…no one's mind wanders. You barely even settled into your choices by the time it's over. It's an adrenaline rush.
Is it intimidating jumping into such a fast-paced production after being away from the stage for so long?
Oh my god, yeah. I didn't feel capable in the slightest. I'm also currently building another human. And I have a toddler at home. I've got a lot of sh*t going on. [laughs] I totally want Sheila to be my first priority and sometimes she is and sometimes she isn't. It's hard with a toddler to come home and still sit with your face in a music book when she wants to hang out but you have no choice with a production like this but to digest it every minute of every day that you're not there. So whether I'm singing the songs to her or just running through the monologues in my head, it's on a constant loop.
You played Crissy in Hair at NYU. How do you feel taking on the role of Sheila now?
I feel like where I am now in life, I'm much more appropriated for Sheila. Also, Sarah Hyland (Modern Family, Grey Gardens) is playing Crissy, and she's so terribly funny and cute at that role. She's perfection in this show so I wouldn't change that for the world.
In addition to you and Sarah, a large number of the principals in the cast are theater veterans like yourself who have gone on to do primarily film and television. Is this show reigniting the theater nerd in all of you?
There is nothing like the feeling of being in a room with a bunch of musical-theater junkies just after they've warmed up. It is infectious, it's hilarious, it's about the dorkiest you can get, and it's utterly creative. Frozen has filled that hole for me for the last few years. It's felt a little far from my heart as far as performing goes but I still feel I've kept up with it.
Do you miss that sense of theatrical camaraderie?
Oh my god, yeah. There's such a sense of family I feel when I get around musical-theater junkies. It might be the same way my husband feels around motorcycle junkies. There's so much life to it. I came home on Monday night and just kind of gushed about how much fun I had had because I hadn't been exposed to that energy in so long. It's such a specific energy. It's so bright.
Is the cast going to be doing the full nudity in this production?
Some people are. Adam left it up to everybody. He embraced the idea that it was a personal decision when it was happening in the sixties and it was a personal decision when it was happening in the show and so it should be a personal decision now. It's kind of a bummer that it's 2014 and everyone has a camera phone and uses it with reckless abandon because it's not an option for the principals. It would be asking for a dramatic media event and no one really wants to have their privates all over the Internet. Pregnancy aside, when I did the show in college I did do the nudity and it was invigorating and wonderful and very much a part of the show but it's not a decision I can even make now.
As a show that portrays a very specific time in history, how do you think it resonates with people today?
It gets really dark, and you don't expect that because it's fun-loving hippie tribes and everybody's hooting and being cute and funny. I think because we always seem to be at war in some way or another in the world, it's a piece that was resonant in the sixties but still has unbelievable relevance today for anyone who loathes violence.
Is Broadway something you'd like to come back to?
Do you have any dream roles?
I've done A Little Night Music twice. Both when I was younger. I played Fredrika both times…But I would really like to play Anne. It's a really challenging vocal role and I think she's such a weird bird. Playing Anne would be a dream for me.
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