Hanging out with Beth Curry, you'd never guess that her career began with a tragedy. Twinkly-eyed and bubbly, she's not unlike Elle Woods and her cohort of sorority sisters, one of whom Curry plays in Legally Blonde: The Musical
. "For the most part I live in a very light place," she says.
But ten years ago, when the California native had just graduated from Southern Methodist University and was about to move to New York—as she'd been planning since high school—her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Instead of going to New York, Curry moved back to California to be with her mother, who died three months later, on the closing weekend of a production of Cabaret that she was in.
Curry ended up staying in California and launching her career from there, and it was not until 2005—when she was cast as a replacement in Good Vibrations—that she finally fulfilled her dream of coming to New York to perform on Broadway. She's not quite settled yet, as she's been moving from one short-term sublet to another, but now that she's here, she expects to stay.
"I'm so much happier here," says Curry. "L.A. is a very deceptively lonely city. You're in your car: isolation. Here, you have to see people. There's an interaction…that's what makes me happy and I thrive on that. And the stuff you see here, too—amazing, like nowhere in the world."
Whether based on the West Coast or East, Curry has spent a lot of time on the road. From L.A., she went to Europe for a tour of Grease as well as the made-for-TV Christmas Carol musical, which was filmed in Hungary. From 2003 to 2006, she traveled around the country and across the Pacific as a backup singer with the Brian Setzer Orchestra. And just prior to Legally Blonde, she did the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels tour for four months.
Her Dirty Rotten audition turned out to be a twofer. Jerry Mitchell—choreographer of both shows, director of Blonde—decided to cast her in Blonde after seeing her at the Dirty Rotten callback, even though she'd been cut at an invited call for Legally Blonde a couple of weeks before. Apparently, her unusual hairdo—which she was wearing because of a movie audition earlier that day—caught Mitchell's eye and he could see her in the Blonde ensemble. Curry's agent called her soon after to tell her she'd gotten a role in both Scoundrels and Legally Blonde, even though the audition had been only for the former.
"This is the weird circuitousness of our business," Curry says. "It was just one of the moments, where he [Mitchell] went off his gut, and he understood my energy." So she started the Scoundrels tour knowing she'd be leaving after a few months to begin Blonde rehearsals. In DRS, she understudied the high-steppin' Oklahoma oil heiress Jolene. In Blonde, she covers three roles: aerobics mogul Brooke Wyndam (whom Elle defends on a murder charge) and Elle's BFFs Pilar and Margot. She also has a small speaking part of her own: the courtroom stenographer, whom Curry—given virtually free rein by Mitchell to create the character—conceived as an oddball.
"One day I brought in glasses, and one thing led to another thing," Curry explains. "He never said stop, so I kept going. I've made her have definitely calcium problems [she hunches over to demonstrate], and she can't breathe out of her nose. She's not the best at her job, so she has to repeat what everyone says. And she is very sexually frustrated."
"That's the freedom he allowed," Curry says of Mitchell's influence on the characterization. "He [has] such a playful, light energy himself that he welcomed that. A first-time director would normally be, like, insecure and overcompensating. He was absolutely the most gracious, really laid-back during the process, and allowed us to…play. It's been so much fun. To do the show is like playtime."
Her Blonde role as a Delta Nu sister is less of a stretch than the dorky stenographer (she also plays one of Brooke's aerobicizers). Like Elle Woods, Curry hails from a California beach town and liberally uses the words "like" and "hot." And just as Elle reveals unexpected abilities, Curry's talents go beyond the obvious. She's not only a singer-dancer but also an award-winning songwriter and a graduate of a nonmusical theater program.
Born and raised in San Luis Obispo on California's Central Coast, Curry began studying dance at age 5 and performing in plays at 9, doing all the classic shows with kid characters—Annie, The Music Man, The Sound of Music—in local theaters. Her first paying job came in sixth grade, with a part in Hans Christian Andersen at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) on the Central Coast. "It was like $50 a week, and I thought I was at the top of the world," she says.