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Esther J. Cepeda Headshot

Backstage With "Bruiser," Legally Blonde Chihuahua Hits Chi-Town

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2009-06-04-movieposter.jpgIf you know nothing about Legally Blonde -- The Musical here's the skinny: it's every bit as pink and perky as the 2001 Reese Witherspoon/Luke Wilson confection about the chipper sorority sister who gets into Harvard Law School and finds love, laughter and blah, blah, blah...there's a Chihuahua involved.

Ahh, yes, Bruiser. You remember Bruiser from the film, right? Stoic, spoiled, and stylish from classic, apple-shaped head to teeny-tiny-dog-toe.

Well, from the moment I heard the soaring-pop-lietmotif stage production would be coming to Chicago, I harassed the show's PR people until they granted me an exclusive, behind-the-scenes interview with his-highness.

Imagine my surprise when I showed up at the Oriental Theater's stage door for our lunch date only to find...drumroll, please...TWO Chihuahuas!

2009-06-04-roxieanfranki.jpg
"There's Frankie who works with the lead "Elle" but like with people, there is an understudy -- that's Roxie," Marjorie Fitzsimmons, the show's Chihuahua handler explained to me in the comfort of the doggie dressing room which, incidentally, was marked with a bright yellow "Chihuahua crossing" sign.

Frankie, a one-and-a-half year old dark-muzzled boy Chihuahua who was "discovered" as a stray in Meriden, Connecticut, and Roxie, a three-year-old girl Chihuahua with lighter facial features who was a stray rescued in rural Louisiana with a nasty case of the heartworm, surprisingly never yapped at me like my own two do.

"Frankie is very friendly, very sweet, a little bit coy," Marjorie shared, "Roxie is a much braver little dog." And did I mention uncharacteristically mellow and quiet?

2009-06-04-wardrobe1.jpgI was expecting rock-star grade amenities; giant brandy snifters filled with Pupperonis and Beggin' Strips, and designer toilet-bowl-flavored water but, clearly, these Chihuahuas are Equity actors -- their room was Spartan, accented only by Roxie's gleaming pink crate and the dressing table which holds their extremely fashionable wardrobe.

In fact, the Frankie and Roxie share their room with the two stunning English Bulldogs, Nellie and Lewis, (star and understudy -- both also rescued strays) who play Rufus.

2009-06-04-bd1wRob.jpgThe crew has traveled over 17,000 miles with this show and Lewis hasn't been in a live show because Nellie has not missed a single performance," said Rob Cox, the Bulldog handler. "Of over 700 shows! No one else in the cast and crew can say that!"

Here's the real dirt on the dogs of Legally Blonde:

• All the dogs rehearse with the full cast and crew -- who, themselves, are trained by the handlers on how to interact with the canine talent -- they perform eight full shows a week.

• Small cues earn the doggies small bits of beef jerky, big cues and curtain calls earn them pieces of hamburger or chicken.

• All four of the pups are lovin' Chicago -- "Nellie and Rufus are very much city dogs, they prefer pavement, they think doing their business in the grass is weird," Rob said. "The buses and trains don't bother Frankie and Roxie one bit," Marjorie added.

• Yes, people do wait at the Stage Door after performances to catch a glimpse, or a picture, with them after performances but Pupperazzi are strictly prohibited. "They're great with people and they love it when moms and their children interact with them on a leisurely walk," Marjorie said, "but after a performance the energy is just too high for them to handle full crowds."

I was going to try to get a good quote from Frankie or Roxie about how it feels that first moment Bruiser comes on stage and crowd goes wild with the collective "awwww!!!!!" but by the time I finished taking my notes, they'd curled up in Frankie's crate for the afternoon siesta.

2009-06-04-frankieandroxie.jpg
So does all the glory and adoration go to their heads? In stark contrast to my own two Chihuahuas, Frankie and Roxie are purported to be "not really that spoiled." These are working professionals after all.

"They get a lot of love and attention, but it's not a show to them," Marjorie said. "It's real life."

Legally Blonde -- The Musical at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theater began May 12 and runs through June 7

Esther J. Cepeda has not one, but TWO Chihuahuas at home who believe they are Broadway stars. She rarely writes about them on www.600words.com