How I Became Legally (but not literally) Blonde

Alana Barraj (right) in her Legally Blonde costume

Are you dying your hair or wearing a wig? That's all I heard during the first month of rehearsal for Abu Dhabi Choral Group’s production Legally Blonde: The Musical. In fact, the questions started mere minutes after I shared the good news about winning the role of Elle Woods after a gut wrenching, nausea inducing, ten-day audition process.

Legally Blonde: The Musical features nine NYUAD community members both on and off stage. The show opens on April 30 at the Folklore Theater (behind Al Wahda Mall) with a three show run and continues at the Abu Dhabi Theater (on the breakwater next to Marina Mall) starting May 7 for a five show run, closing on May 11.

For those who don’t know me, I’m a brunette. And not just a brunette but a dark chocolate kind of brunette, so the idea of dying my hair seemed not only crazy but threw me into a total identity crisis. I knew I could be Elle as a blonde but could I be Alana too? I had a few minor (okay major) breakdowns, and beyond my better judgment, tried to take advice from one too many people. Thankfully, for logistical reasons, the directors of the show decided a wig would be the best way to go, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the thought that my hair would stay intact. What I never considered was how difficult it would be to wear a wig.

In the days leading up to that first rehearsal with my new hair piece, I thought that I would put the wig on and just transform into character. But instead of wearing the wig, that wig wore me. I couldn’t stop looking in mirror and wondering why this animal had decided to crawl onto my head and die there. No matter which way I tugged, pulled, teased, combed, or pinned this wig, it just looked a little ridiculous. More tears, and more minor (okay, yes, major) breakdowns later, and I found myself looking to others for encouragement and words of wisdom.

Everyone was kind and tried to be reassuring. "No, you don’t look weird," they would say and joke that "it's okay we can see some of your real hair poking through."

Others were more blunt: "OMG Alana, I didn’t recognize you! Is that the wig? So, you’re not dying your hair?"

But even the people who told me outright that I looked fabulous seemed to be hiding something. And I couldn’t help but notice that there was something that just wasn’t working. So I went back to the drawing board. Should I dye my hair? Do I have enough time? Or do I just live with the wig and hope my performance carries me through? And just like that, I had one of those epiphany moments (completely stereotypical, I realize).

I needed to completely transform myself into a blonde in mind and spirit. Why hadn’t I realized this before? I didn’t so much need to think like a blonde as much as I needed to truly believe I was a blonde. I felt like a fraud in my costume because I still thought of myself as a brunette just playing dress up.

Shifting my mindset made a remarkable difference. Sure, the wig still needed attention and styling but now this thing was a part of me and I started to look forward to going through the routine and process of putting it on.

At the very next rehearsal, it showed. I had pulled it off. In fact, one cast member barely recognized me as a brunette after 10 hours as Elle in that blonde wig.