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Erika Heynatz – Whipped into shape

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AussieTheatre’s Ben Neutze spoke to Erika Heynatz about her musical theatre debut in the fabulous Legally Blonde – the Musical

Erika Heynatz in LEGALLY BLONDE. Image by Jeff Busby

Erika Heynatz in LEGALLY BLONDE. Image by Jeff Busby

If there’s one woman who understands the message of Legally Blonde – the Musical, it’s Erika Heynatz. “The show itself explores preconceptions about looks and ability,” she says. “It proves that beauty and brains can coexist and for me is a real joy to play.” It’s a message that the show itself embodies – it’s aesthetically pink and fluffy, but with brains hidden behind every move.

As a former model and the original host of Australia’s Next Top Model, Heynatz is used to having her intellectual capacity underestimated. Even her casting in the musical initially drew some sneers from the theatre community. Some called John Frost’s casting of a former model and television personality in a pivotal role ‘stunt casting’ and predicted it would eventually backfire.

But boy, has she proven them wrong. Everyone who has been lucky enough to catch her onstage would tell you that Heynatz is a talent able to hold her own alongside her musical theatre peers.

"All I can do when I’m doing this show is eat, sleep and sing. There’s not much room around that"

AussieTheatre critic Cassie Tongue wrote in her review of the Sydney season: “The big surprise of the night, however, was Erika Heynatz as fitness mogul Brooke Wyndham. Her electrifying jump-rope number at the top of the second act was a choreographed marvel, and her singing voice was a revelation. Heynatz gave a clever, witty performance, and received many well-earned laughs.”

When Heynatz speaks about the show, her commitment to delivering the best performance possible is absolutely clear, even from the initial casting process.

“I told my manager that I passionately wanted a role in musical theatre, so she put the call out to see what was auditioning and came back with Legally Blonde,” Heynatz says.

“I was sent the script and started training for it. A couple of weeks later I had the audition and I think I was there about two hours early, singing in the car park. I was so excited and determined to get the role that as soon as I’d done the audition I must have called back a couple of times every week asking if there was any word yet.”

Brooke Wyndham was a character Heynatz feels a strong affinity with. “She’s a really high-energy fitness instructor and I’m a bit of a fitness junkie myself. For me, it was about getting to the core of Brooke and knowing that she’d worked really hard to get where she is.”

Erika Heynatz as Brooke in LEGALLY BLONDE. Image by Jeff Busby

Whipped into Shape: Erika Heynatz as Brooke. Image by Jeff Busby

Once she’d overcome her first obstacle and won the role, the rehearsal process presented a whole new set of challenges, not least of which was preparing for one of the most physically taxing numbers in musical theatre – the show-stopping ‘Whipped into Shape’.

“I initially thought I’d be lucky because I spend a minimum hour exercising every day, so I consider myself to be fit,” she recalls. “But I very quickly learnt that show stamina is a very different kind of stamina.”

Broadway director Jerry Mitchell, who came down under to kick-start the rehearsal process, put Heynatz and the rest of the cast through his now infamous hour-long, daily training sessions to get them (pardon the pun) whipped into shape.

“On the first day I turned up to the ABC Studios where I met the tall, gorgeous Jerry Mitchell and felt this otherworldly excitement. He then gave me my skipping rope and I realised I was shaking hands with what was going to be a long-term partner.”

Now, almost a year down the line, Heynatz has played Brooke in both the Sydney and Brisbane seasons and is ready to start performances in Melbourne next month. The skipping rope is still by her side and she’s still belting out ‘Whipped into Shape’ every night.

“All I can do when I’m doing this show is eat, sleep and sing. There’s not much room around that. You can’t socialise too much, you can’t go out into noisy bars and nightclubs because it affects your voice so considerably.”

But the discipline the show requires has its own benefits. “At the age of 38, I feel like I’ve got a job where not only do I get to sing for my supper, which is a total dream, but I get fit on the job as well, so I can have my chips and burgers and get away with it,” she says.

Cameron Daddo, David Harris and Erika Heynatz in LEGALLY BLONDE

Cameron Daddo, David Harris and Erika Heynatz in rehearsal

It’s a lifestyle that after years in magazines and on television, Heynatz would like to continue. “I feel there’s a lot about this lifestyle that really suits me. I love being a part of the theatre family. I love the immediacy of the audience response; it’s a fantastic feeling, so it would be incredible to move into something else.”

Heynatz says she has nothing set in stone for when Legally Blonde eventually wraps up in Melbourne, but that there are a few things ‘in the pipeline’ that she’s really excited about.

When asked if she has any dream roles, she says that there are a fair few, but doesn’t want to second-guess what might be around the corner. “Prior to getting this job, A Chorus Line had gone onto play and it’s one of my all-time favourite musicals. It would’ve been great to have been brave enough to audition or that when it came around. It’d probably be good to be open and receptive to whatever work came along.”

Judging from the audience and critical response to her musical theatre debut, it shouldn’t be too long before Heynatz lands her next theatre role and proves once again that looks and first impressions can be deceptive.

Legally Blonde will transfer to Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on May 9. To book tickets, visit legallyblonde.com.au

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