Have you ever wondered about what it’s like to tour with a Broadway show? Singer, dancer, actor, influencer, fitness coach, baton twirler, and goofball Jesse Lynn Harte has been performing all her life and is currently on the national tour of the Legally Blonde Musical, based on the cult classic film from 2001.
Originally from a rural town in middle-of-nowhere-New Hampshire, Jesse Lynn (she/her) dreamed of moving to New York City and pursuing her dreams of taking the stage. “I always knew I wanted to be a performer - ever since my older sister started taking dance lessons when she was 4 and I crashed her classes and demanded to participate.”
From a young age Jesse Lynn trained at The Palace Theatre, and eventually went on to receive her BFA in Theater Performance from Emerson College. Since then, she has been working professionally at many prestigious theaters and venues across the country, including returning to perform at The Palace Theatre as an adult in many shows, like Legally Blonde (Serena), The Little Mermaid (Ariel), and Mamma Mia (Lisa) to name a few. She now resides in New York City in the continuous pursuit of “the dream,” although she claims “I’m not even really sure what ‘the dream’ is”, a not-so-distant feeling familiar to many performers worldwide.
I constantly remind myself that someone is attending their first musical at each performance.
The Legally Blonde musical stars Elle Woods, a sorority girl turned successful lawyer dressed in pink. She begins by attempting to win back her ex-boyfriend by getting a degree from Harvard law but ends up breaking blonde stereotypes and winning her case along the way. Just as any varying adaptation, Broadway musicals on stage vs film have differences, but both the Legally Blonde musical and cult classic film follow the same themes: love, perseverance, and self-worth, wrapped up in a pink bow!
Below, Jesse Lynn shares her experiences and insight as she embarks on her national tour debut, singing and dancing in Legally Blonde as Margot and Elle Woods u/s!
What was the audition process like booking Legally Blonde? Was it virtual or in person
Jesse Lynn: This is actually my fourth time auditioning and being in callbacks for the National Tour of Legally Blonde. I first auditioned right after graduating in 2017. I went back in again and was in callbacks for Serena a couple years later, and in 2018 was in finals for Margot and came so close, but no cigar. I desperately wanted that job, and it absolutely broke me to feel like I had lost out on my dream role.
For this last round of auditions, I submitted a general audition via Actors Access, submitted a callback tape for Serena, and was asked to come to the in-person callbacks for Serena. I then was asked to come to final callbacks for Ensemble, and after seeing my songs and scene work, I read for Margot. By the end of this callback day, there was only one Margot, Serena, and Pilar left, and I knew in my gut it was my turn.
I think this is a testament to the belief that what is meant for you will not pass you by - it was my role and my show, just not my time.
What is the process like playing a role like Margot but understudying the lead as well? What qualities do you need to have as an understudy?
Jessie Lynn: Understudying a lead role is always high pressure, but understudying Elle Woods is a different beast. Elle virtually never leaves the stage, unless to have a rapid quick change. Not only that, the vocal and physical stamina required to play Elle is astounding. Our wonderful Elle, Hannah Bonnett, is such a generous and talented icon, and handles the role with such grace. She has welcomed me into the “Elle Family” with open arms and helped me so much with tracking purposes. However, most of the rehearsal and conditioning of stamina happens behind the scenes. Running scenes with understudies, reviewing tracking, watching show videos, etc., and getting into deeper character work all happens whenever we have some extra time in a theater or in a hotel conference room.
What is your favorite part about understudying Elle Woods?
Jessie Lynn: My favorite part of understudying Elle Woods is the process of learning and working on a role that I never thought I would play. I never in my life would submit for Elle Woods, so I am discovering the track and her journey for the first time. It’s like getting to plan a wedding when you never in a million years thought you would get married.
As Jesse Lynn describes, understudy life requires many must-have qualities to be successful, including flexibility, adaptability, organization, timeliness, attention to detail and more. Understudying a lead role is no small feat, as the job entails being ready at a moment’s notice to fill in during a show. Performing as a tour dancer, singer, and actor on a Broadway show proves difficult already: traveling long days to getting acquainted to new performance venues, to being away from friends and family, let alone adding an understudy assignment to focus on. Because of this, understudies are truly the unsung heroes of the live performance world, especially while dancing on tour.
Describe a typical day on tour. What is your schedule like?
Jessie Lynn: Our schedule varies greatly from day to day and week to week. We have some stretches of time where we have one nighters, so we will get up early, bus to our next venue anywhere from 4-7 hours away, check into our hotel, perform at the next theatre, go to sleep and wake up to do it again the next day. Other times, we have sit downs in cities and will have time to explore the cities, meet locals, do press, etc.
How many shows a week are you performing? How do you keep up your energy?
Jessie Lynn: We typically perform 7-8 shows a week, which takes a lot of energy. I drink my greens powder every day to make sure I’m getting my nutrients, exercise at the hotel gyms on most show days, and allow myself as much sleep and rest whenever my body needs it and time allows. Also, I rely on the “backstage choreo” and fun bits that the cast has created to get through every show.
What city has been your favorite stop so far?
Jessie Lynn: Every stop has been lovely, but by far my favorite stop has been Fayetteville, Arkansas. We got to spend a couple weeks in town, and I fell in love with the venue, coffee shops, boutiques, and people in the town.
What is your favorite part about touring?
Jessie Lynn: My favorite part about touring is seeing parts of the country that I would never see and seeing some audiences experience live theatre for the first time. I constantly remind myself that someone is attending their first musical at each performance, and I’m always performing for that particular person.
What advice would you give someone who is also about to set off on tour?
Jessie Lynn: Bring collapsible Tupperware, utensils, and as many household items you need to feel at home during a wild time.
When not performing, what do you enjoy doing?
Jessie Lynn: When not performing on tour, I enjoy exploring new places, eating new foods, and drinking coffee at new local coffee shops. In my general life outside of tour, I’m also passionate about fitness and yoga, as well as spending quality time with family and friends. As performers, we spend so much time making little show families that I cherish every minute I spend with my real biological family at home.
How do you keep each show interesting for yourself and the audience when you’re performing so many times a week?
Jessie Lynn: I feel like most performers know that no two shows are the same - I relish in those moments of the unknown during a performance. I also discover new relationships and themes every day. Sometimes I’ll catch someone’s eye during a scene that I don’t usually see during the show, and the whole show feels fresh. Other times, I lean into new perspectives or side plots (For example: Margot has recently had the hots for the courtroom bailiff)
Any injury prevention practices you’d recommend for dancers?
Jessie Lynn: I always thought of warming up as “nice, but not necessary”… Since touring, I have realized that adequately warming up and preparing your body is essential for maintaining peak performance and preventing injury. I lift weights at the gym, warm up and stretch before every show, and have incorporated massages into my self care routine. I always advocate for seeing a therapist for mental health and a medical doctor for physical health, and have learned that there is no shame in asking for help in other areas either.
Warming up and staying in shape are key ways to avoid injury, as it is important to study and memorize how your body feels when it’s in top shape in contrast to how it feels when you’re sore, fatigued, or injured. Healthy practices for maintaining a sustainable career as a tour dancer/actor include hitting the gym routinely, massages, chiropractor visits, spa days, and more. Avoiding injury is crucial to a sustainable and maintainable career dancing on tour, especially in a high energy musical like Legally Blonde.
It was my role and my show, just not my time.
Any pre-audition or pre-show rituals you have?
Jessie Lynn: This may sound wacky, but I always get to auditions early to do my own warm ups in the space. I always finish my warmup by lying on the floor and taking deep breaths in the space and practicing gratitude for the opportunity to get to do what I love with other people that day. It helps me feel centered and gets me in a clearer headspace before an in person audition or callback.
In Legally Blonde, Margot, Serena, and Pilar start the show behind massive set pieces for a “reveal”. While we are hidden, we put our hands in a clump (“Goooo team!” style) and squeeze our hands. Even if we only arrived at the venue an hour before places or have had a long travel day – we always take that moment to breathe together. It means everything to me.
What’s the biggest challenge of touring? How do you overcome it and avoid burnout?
Jessie Lynn: The biggest challenge of touring thus far has been working through long days of traveling and staying healthy. I have made incredible friends that I rely and lean on, place value on protecting my mental health, and always remind myself that I am living my own dream, and 15 year old Jesse Lynn would be beyond proud.
Touring to different venues weekly (sometimes night after night) can easily lead to feeling tired and unmotivated. Just as Jesse Lynn describes, a few tips to avoid burnout include maintaining healthy practices to decompress after travel days, relying on connection between trusted friends and family, and reminding yourself that when the time is right, you will be exactly where you need to be.