GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Beth Curry of 'Legally Blonde'
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.
She chose SMU for college because "I knew it was a good school, it had a reputable program, good financial aid—and I figured that I would concentrate on school if I were in Dallas," as opposed to New York. As an SMU student, she participated in a Stephen Sondheim tribute by the university that was televised on A&E in January 1995. Curry soloed on "Anyone Can Whistle" in the student-headlined revue, which Sondheim attended and Bernadette Peters and Chip Zien performed in.
Every summer during college, in anticipation of her planned post-graduation move, she got herself work in New York. After freshman year, it was at Rye Playland in suburban Westchester County, where she performed in the amusement park's revues. The shows were free to park guests, which meant they weren't necessarily the most engaged audiences (but possibly the most intoxicated). The whole cast lived together, and only one of them had an automobile. "They gave us one house to live in, with no furniture. It was six people. We didn't have transportation to and from, so we rode in the back of the guy's pickup truck to work. Six shows a day, in a hundred-degree heat. It was the hardest summer ever." The next year, Curry waitressed at a Manhattan restaurant instead of performing and mostly used the time to get to know the city better. Her third summer, she had the female lead, Ariel, in Footloose at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, Conn.
When she returned to California after graduating, her ailing mother told her "I want to see you perform one last time." Curry says, "She was so adamant about wanting that." So she went out on auditions and won a part as a Kit Kat girl in Cabaret at Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities in Redondo Beach, almost 200 miles down the coast from their home. Her mother came to a performance about a week before she passed away. "She was stark white from the illness but with such a huge smile on her face," recalls Curry, who had to fight back tears while performing when she saw her mother in the audience. As soon as the show closed, says Curry, "I drove the whole way home. I knew it was not good. In order to breathe, I had to keep singing." Her mom died the next night.
Joyce Curry-Daly, who was 52 when she passed away, had done community theater when she was younger and sang in church, but she made her living as a statistics professor at California Polytechnic State University. "She was very dramatic in life, she had a great voice," says her daughter. "She never did it professionally; her stage was the classroom. She was such a teacher, she passed on so much to me about going for it. It was the biggest bittersweet lesson I've ever had in my life."
While her mother was sick, Curry was adopted by her stepfather, Jim Daly. It was her idea, "so that my mom knew that he was taken care of and that I was taken care of." He'd married her mother when Curry was only 2, not long after her parents had divorced. "In my heart he was always my dad," Curry says of Daly, who taught in the Cal Poly statistics department with her mother.
After her mother's death, Curry was in another show at Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, Guys & Dolls. While living in L.A., she performed in the Reprise! concert stagings of Babes in Arms, The Most Happy Fella, Mack & Mabel and I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road. She was in the August 2002 concert performance at the Hollywood Bowl of The Music Man, starring Eric McCormack and Kristin Chenoweth. She's also appeared at such regional theaters as Sacramento Music Circus (in Man of La Mancha), the Denver Center (Dorian) and Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse (Blvd. of Broken Dreams).
Curry spent much of 1999 and 2000 overseas, playing Rizzo on the European tour of Grease. A few years later, she returned to Europe to film the TV version of the Madison Square Garden Christmas Carol musical, which premiered on NBC in November 2004, starring Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge and Jason Alexander, Jesse L. Martin and Jane Krakowski as the ghosts. Just like in a stage production, she played several ensemble roles, including townsperson, creditor and flying ghost. She was thrilled to live in Budapest—"one of my adored cities"—during the three-month shoot and bought a bicycle so she could explore the city. She also took a trip on her own to Ireland, flying to Dublin, then driving south through Wexford, Waterford… "I didn't know where I was really going," she says. "My destination was Dingle—just for fun."
Her favorite of all European destinations was Dubrovnik, Croatia: "It's just so magical—so preserved." Of course, Paris won her over too. "Someday I dream of having a house somewhere in France," says Curry. "The mentality, I just love it. The slow. When I first got there, I was: 'Can I have a coffee to go?' 'No. You can sit and have your coffee.' When I came back [to L.A.] and went into Ralph's, the huge grocery store, I was like, 'Aargh.' They don't have huge grocery stores, it's nice."
She has also traveled—to many U.S. cities and a few in Japan—with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and performed with them on The Tonight Show and Late Night With Conan O'Brien. Just as would later happen with Legally Blonde, she got the Setzer gig without really auditioning. In 2003, a member of Curry's L.A. cover band who also sang backup for the BSO got pregnant and recommended Curry to Setzer as her replacement. He hired her without asking her to sing. "It's so random how things like that happen," Curry says. "That's how everything sort of happens to me."
Including her Broadway debut. In early 2005, Curry came to New York for a callback for Princesses. She was just a few blocks from the studio after the audition when her agent called her on her cell phone and told her to go back: Tara Rubin, the casting agent, wanted to see her for Good Vibrations, which was auditioning in the same building. A day after she returned to L.A., she found out she got the Vibrations role and had just a day or two to pack up and move to New York. She replaced Milena Govich as Rhonda (as in "Help Me…"), but less than three weeks after her Broadway bow on April 1, the critically savaged jukebox musical posted its closing notice. She was unemployed by the end of the month.
Later that year, she filmed a guest role as a cardio striptease instructor on the Kelly Ripa sitcom Hope & Faith and appeared in Wild Women of Planet Wongo at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. She also had a role off-Broadway in the kooky musical comedy (by Bare composer Damon Intrabartolo) Ann E. Wrecksick & the Odyssey of the Bulimic Orphans, which ran at Ars Nova in February 2006.
In June 2006, she performed with the Brian Setzer Orchestra at a White House state dinner for the prime minister of Japan. "I'm not necessarily a fan of what's going on there, but it was still absolutely amazing to be in the White House," Curry says, adding: "It was surreal. Donald Rumsfeld was kinda like [imitates him ogling her]…hitting on me."
Well, he's out of a job now. Meanwhile, "I'm all over the place creatively," says Curry. She's written the lyrics for a slew of songs, including one about carrying on after a devastating loss, "Empty," that won a songwriting award from Billboard. (You can listen to Curry's songs at her website.)
In the future, she'd like to establish herself as a comedic actress. "It's sort of new for me to realize that I'm more 'character' [than lead] at the end of the day. That's where I'm most happy; that's where I feel I belong. I would love to do quirky roles." She even has a specific role in mind—the receptionist in the 9 to 5 musical that's being developed for Broadway. And she has a role model: "You know who has the career I would like? Joan Cusack. She's always an extreme role."
Which is also Curry's style. "I always go balls to the wall when I audition," she says, "or make a choice that's a little off, take a risk with maybe a little bit of humor." Curry has been going out for movie and TV work—she was up for the part of catty fashionista Amanda (played by Becki Newtown) on ABC's Ugly Betty—though her last three film auditions were for roles as a hooker, an escort and an exotic dancer. But she's showing what she can do with quirky in the Legally Blonde courtroom every night, and not fretting over any dreams deferred. "I hardly ever look back," she says, "which is bad sometimes because I have no memory. People will be like, 'Remember when we…?' 'Was I there?' 'Yes, you were.' I just kind of go forward and whatever is happening in the moment.
"This is all I've ever known," Curry says when thinking about alternative career options. "Thank God I'm still doing it. If it were to end tomorrow, I'd have no other skills. I would be screwed. I'm so passionate about it, I have so much fun doing it, and I'm so thankful for it. It's amazing that I get to do this for a living."
Photos of Beth, from top: at theater hangout Edison Cafe; in a split, in Legally Blonde, with Laura Bell Bundy (top right) and ensemble; in costume for Babes in Arms at L.A.'s Reprise!; with Jason Alexander on the set of NBC's A Christmas Carol; with Brian Setzer backstage at The Tonight Show. [Legally Blonde photo by Paul Kolnik]