The horror of `Blonde’ reality TV

Thanks to my trusty DVR, I did not have to watch “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods” when it aired on MTV on Monday.

I can tell this one is going to be painful — but maybe in a “feel sleazy and need to take a shower after” way. You’ve got a bunch of hopeful young (YOUNG!) actresses aiming for Broadway stardom as Laura Bell Bundy’s replacement in the musical Legally Blonde, which frankly, should probably have closed by now (theater occupancy is just over half full much of the time). Are they maybe hoping this reality show casting stunt will boost business and help the imminent tour (mercifully not coming to the Bay Area — we’ve done our Blonde time).

Episode one was very Chorus Line wannabe with Mitchell and dance coach Denis Jones winnowing the group of 50 down to 15 and then down to 10 by the end of the hour. There’s a rocker Elle (isn’t there always a rocker?) named Celina, and she says she’s from San Francisco. Anybody know her? And famed Broadway director Jerry Zaks has a relative in the bunch (granddaughter? daughter?). One of the other girls had a grandmother on Broadway — not sure who that is.

Anyway, the best part of the show is vocal coach Seth Rudetsky, who teaches the girls the song “So Much Better.” If you don’t know Rudetsky from his column on, you should. He’s hilarious and quippy and knows everything there is to know about Broadway. I could use a reality show about Seth and not so much about the blondes.

The opening montage of things to come nearly did me in with its flood of tears and flurry of tantrums as the girls attempt to bend and snap their way to stardom by stomping on each other all the way to the top.

Haylie Duff (older sister of Hilary) is the host because she has been in a Broadway show (Amber in Hairspray), and she’s obnoxious in all the usual overly dramatic reality show ways. She talks like Jeff Probst on “Survivor,” which is to say that everything she says has the import of a State of the Union address, even though she’s talking about taking the girls to a vocal rehearsal.

The judges are director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who will make appearances and keep tabs on the proceedings but wisely removes himself from the day-to-day craziness (he’s also on that Bravo dance show, so who has the time?); casting director Bernie Telsey, Heather Hach (who wrote the book for Legally Blonde the Musical), and Legally Blonde cast member Paul Cannan (who quips that he wanted to be cast as Elle Woods but there were size issues).

This thing goes on for eight weeks. Not sure if I can withstand that, but I’ll check in every once in a while. If anything of note transpires — beyond tears of frustration, desperation and ambition — I’ll be sure to let you know.

Visit MTV’s official “Search” site here.

One singular sensation one more time

Bay Area audiences were the first to see the most recent revival of A Chorus Line before it headed to New York (where it’s still running at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre).

Now, as the Broadway production moves beyond its 500th performance (celebrated last January), it’s time for the Line to hit the road. The national tour will return to the Curran Theatre July 8 through 27 as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway season. This is the same theater that launched the very first A Chorus Line national tour in 1976.

Michael Gruber, who plays Zach on tour, was actually a member of the line during the original A Chorus Line’s record-breaking, nearly 15-year run on Broadway. He was in the final company playing Mike, who sings “I Can Do That.”

Another notable name in the cast is Nikki Snelson, who plays Cassie. Bay Area audiences saw Snelson in TheatreWorks’ world-premiere musical Kept and again in that company’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Snelson originated the role of the accused murderer/exercise guru in Legally Blonde, which had its pre-Broadway tryout at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre.

Tickets go on sale May 4 and will run $25 to $99. Call 415-512-7770 or visit or

Theater moments: Reflections on 2007

I’ve already offered up my Top 10 list of 2007’s best Bay Area theater (see it here).

That’s all well and good, but there was way too much good stuff in 2007 to contain in a polite numbered list. What follows, in no apparent order, are some of the year’s most distinctive theater moments (mostly good, some not so much).

The shows in the Top 10 were really great shows, but so were these. This is my honorable mention roster:

American Suicide, Encore Theatre Company and Z Plays
Pillowman, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
The Birthday Party, Aurora Theatre Company
Pleasure & Pain, Magic Theatre’s Hot House ’07
After the War, American Conservatory Theater
Heartbreak House, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Tings Dey Happen, Dan Hoyle and The Marsh
Annie Get Your Gun, Broadway by the Bay
Des Moines, Campo Santo, Intersection for the Arts
Richard III, California Shakespeare Theater

Favorite scene: Didn’t even have to think twice about this one. The dinner scene in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s adaptation of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Director Les Waters, working from Adele Edling Shank’s script, fashioned a multilayered scene that would have made Woolf herself proud. A boisterous family dinner, warmly illuminated by candles, allows us into the head of each of the diners without ever losing track of the dinner conversation. Extraordinary and beautiful — and vocally choreographed like a piece of complex music.

Greatest guilty pleasure: Legally Blonde, The Musical, had its pre-Broadway run early in 2007 at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre, and though it had its problems, it was a heck of a lot of fun. The best number was the lengthy “What You Want” in which sorority gal Elle Woods (Laura Bell Bundy) decides to apply to Harvard. In true musical fashion, the number sweeps through time and space, coursing through months of effort and from Southern California to the hallowed halls of Harvard. Jerry Mitchell’s choreography incorporates a frat party, the Harvard selection committee and a marching band.

Favorite image:The green girl in Berkeley Rep’s The Pillowman.

Favorite couple: Francis Jue as Mr. Oji and Delia MacDougall as Olga Mikhoels in Philip Kan Gotanda’s After the War at ACT. The sweetest romance was also the most surprising: a shy Japanese man and a recent Russian immigrant, neither of whom speaks much English.

Speaking of MacDougall: It was a good year for the actress (seen at right with the fur and tiara), who died memorably in Cal Shakes’ King Lear and ended 2007 with a superb, hip-swiveling, lip-pursing performance in Sex by Mae West at the Aurora.

Favorite tryout: Joan Rivers is more than a red carpet personality and an experiment in plastic surgery. An avowed theater lover, Rivers got down to some serious (and seriously funny) business in The Joan Rivers Theatre Project at the Magic. She combined stand-up with drama as she told an autobiographical tale of growing old in show business. The play was far from perfect, but she gets an A for effort.

Best ensemble: Behind every good show is a good ensemble, in front of and behind the scenes. But the one that comes to mind that, together, elevated the play was the fine crew in TheatreWorks’ Theophilus North (left) directed by Leslie Martinson.

Biggest disappointments: There were a few of them. I adore Kiki and Herb (Justin Bond and Kenny Melman), but their summer gig at ACT was in desperate need of a director. Berkeley Rep hosted Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of Oliver Twist, and while it was good, it didn’t reach anything approaching the heights of David Edgar’s Nicholas Nickleby. I complained about this in the review, and I’ll complain about it again: In ACT’s The Rainmaker, when the rain falls at the end, the actors should get wet. That’s the whole point of the play. In this version, the rain fell from above, but the actors were behind it and only pretended — acted if you will — the wetness. Lame.

Most gratuitous nudity: Actors bare all emotionally _ it’s what they do. But this year saw some unnecessary flesh, most notably in ‘Bot at the Magic, Private Jokes, Public Places at the Aurora and Two Boys in Bed on a Cold Winter Night. Costumes are a good thing.

Favorite quote of the year: It was uttered by the food critic Anton Ego (and written by Brad Bird) in the brilliant Pixar/Disney movie Ratatouille. As a critic (or what’s left of one), the words really hit home. And they’re true.

Here’s a taste: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.”

Happy New Year. May your stages in 2008 be full of the discovery of the new.

`Blonde’ clips has a bunch of 30-second clips from the upcoming broadcast of Broadway’s Legally Blonde, The Musical.

You can see “Omigod You Guys,” “What You Want” (complete with plug for Jet Blue), “The Harvard Variations,” “Bend and Snap” and “There Right There” (aka “Gay or European?”).

The still-running musical will be broadcast Oct. 13

If the above doesn’t work, click here to check them out.

MTV `Blonde’ in October

Apparently the leap from the Broadway stage to television takes a little longer than previously thought.

If you planned this weekend around multiple screenings of Legally Blonde, the Musical on MTV, you’re going to have to find other ways to amuse yourself.

The MTV broadcast of Legally Blonde, the Musical will not screen until Oct. 13

But the delay means we get a bonus program: a behind-the scenes look at the musical and all the craziness that goes on backstage at the Palace Theatre.

The musical, which was filmed three times, including on Sept. 18 with an orchestra section full of people in pink, will be preceded by a “Pink Carpet extravaganza.” Omigod, you guys!

Just in case the broadcast gets delayed again, you might want to check in at or

Omigod, you guys!

The Bay Area saw Legally Blonde, The Musical first. Now anyone with basic cable can see the Broadway hit when MTV broadcasts the show in its entirely on Sept. 29.

Legally Blonde, the musical stage adaptation of the Reese Witherspoon movie of the same name, had its pre-New York tryout at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre.

When the show opened on Broadway last spring at the Palace Theatre, New York critics were a lot less kind than Bay Area critics, but audiences keep turning up, and the show is going strong.
The move to broadcast a still-running Broadway musical is an unusual one, but MTV promises a full weekend of Blonde-ness with behind-the-scenes interviews with cast members and the creative team.

The musical is directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell and stars Laura Bell Bundy, Orfeh and Michael Rupert.

Apparently the musical was filmed three times: twice with an audience (including an orchestra section filled with pink-clad young people) and once without. Talk about your Blonde ambition.

Road trip = show tunes!

Howdy, Theater Dogs.

I’ve been on vacation for the last week or so, but I’m back, eager to bring you interesting tidbits of theater news and reviews.

Took a roadtrip up the Oregon coast — took 101 from San Francisco to the beautiful little hamlet known as Rockaway Beach. Breathtakingly beautiful pretty much the entire way. I highly recommend it. At Rockaway, one of the most striking local attractions is called Twin Rocks, and they’re just offshore of a gorgeous expanse of white-sand beach. Here — see for yourself (it’s much prettier in person):

But now to my point. For me, road trip means one thing: a big-time show tune sing-along. I’ll spare you all the gory details (and believe me, if you’re not traveling with the right people or person, show tunes in an enclosed space can be dangerous, so please, exercise caution), but I will tell you that there were two big hits on the California-to-Oregon playlist: the cast album of Legally Blonde, the Musical and the soundtrack recording of Hairspray.

Legally Blonde, the Broadway musical version of the hit movie that had its pre-Broadway tryout in San Francisco, makes for a fun listen. People who saw the show here can give a listen to the new songs (“Positive”) and all the changes made to the versions we heard (most notably, Orfeh gets a big Broadway finish on the “Ireland” reprise). Bouncy and happy, the score is light and enjoyable, but I will say it suffers some in translation to disc. It seems sillier on disc than it does on stage, and Laura Bell Bundy as Elle, so chipper and bright onstage, doesn’t have a great voice. And some of the songs (“There! Right There!” and “Chip on My Shoulder” are good for a listen or two but are definitely not worth the space they take up on the ol’ MP3 player. Some enjoyable tunes — “What You Want,” for instance — are fun onstage, but they go on forever on disc. But if you have affection for the show, as I do, the cast album is a must.

The most enjoyable album of the summer belongs to the most enjoyable movie of the summer, which also happens to be the most enjoyable movie musical to come out since…I guess Chicago, but Hairspray is an awful lot more fun because it’s not remotely cynical.

With this soundtrack, composer Marc Shaiman (a pop-show tune genius), who co-wrote the score with the equally brilliant Scott Wittman, indulges his every fantasy to beef up the orchestrations with strings, horns and even more good humor. A song I don’t like much from the Broadway original, “Miss Baltimore Crabs,” is turned into a true event thanks to Shaiman’s witty arrangement and Michelle Pfeiffer’s fabulously pinched performance. The same is true of the title song, which is pretty forgettable, but Shaiman beefs it up, and James Marsden’s surprisingly delightful performance makes it a winner (check out his little Michael Buble moment toward the end).

As for the great songs — “Good Morning, Baltimore,” “Welcome to the ’60s,” “I Know Where I’ve Been,” “I Can Hear the Bells,” “Run and Tell That,” “Without Love” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” — they’re better and brighter than ever. And I must say, I’m quite fond of the new songs “Ladies’ Choice,” sung by Zac Efron, and the end titles song, “Come So Far, Got So Far To Go,” sung by most of the cast. I don’t quite get the other end titles song, “Cooties,” but hey, it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Shaiman and company have outdone themselves on this album, which I’m playing repeatedly. Sorry, Spring Awakening, but Hairspray the movie is my new favorite thing (so sue me, I’m fickle).

Tony red carpet, etc.

(all photos Associated Press)

“Musical theater rocks,” so said Duncan Sheik with a sly smile and a twinkle in his award-drunk eyes during Sunday’s Tony Awards.

Here’s Sheik on the red carpet before the event.

That’s the smile of someone who knows he’s going to win two Tonys (for best score and orchestration for Spring Awakening.

Another gorgeous red carpet arrival was best actess in a musical nominee Audra McDonald (110 in the Shade), who would not go on to win her fifth Tony.

But she would go on to electrify the audience (in Radio City Music Hall and at home) with the number “Raunchy” alongside co-star (and fellow nominee) John Cullum.

Returning to the red carpet, here’s the lovely Laura Bell Bundy, nominee for best actress in a musical for her role as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. To no one’s surprise, Bundy did not win, and Blonde failed to win in any category.

Looking like the Broadway royalty she is, Angela Lansbury, a best actress in a play nominee for Deuce, arrives. That’s Harry Connick Jr.’s daughter in the rear looking at Lansbury adoringly (“Daddy! It’s the voice of Mrs. Potts!). Lansbury lost to an ecstatic Julie White for The Little Dog Laughed, but she was a gracious ad hoc host.

Cutest married couple award on the red carpet goes to Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs. Neither was nominated but they should have received an award for looking so good.

I am thrilled that David Hyde Pierce, by all accounts a marvelous guy, was the surprise winner for best actor in a musical (for Curtains), but I was a little disappointed for Raul Esparza, who is electrifying as Bobby in the John Doyle revival of Company (which won best musical revival). On the red carpet he was clearly amused by the whole shebang.

Esparza’s performance of “Being Alive” during the awards was just a taste of how good he is in this show.

Another cutest couple award goes to a non-couple: presenters Cynthia Nixon and Felicity Huffman, who should definitely find a project to work on together.

Speaking of couples, hard to resist including a snap of Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts. In Hollywood that’s called a baby bump. In New York, it’s called pregnancy.

In the realm of manufactured couples, here are the reality show castees Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, who will be starring on Broadway in the much-needed revival of Grease.

Tony, Tony, Tony

Tony nominations were announced this morning, and to my great delight, Spring Awakening nabbed a leading 11 nominations, including two acting noms for Jonathan Groff (best actor in a musical) and John Gallagher Jr. (best featured actor in a musical).

Grey Gardens received 10 nominations, including one for Christine Ebersole (best actress in a musical), whom many consider the front runner.

In the play categories, Tom Stoppard’s mammoth, three-play cycle The Coast of Utopia snagged 10 nominations. In the acting categories, the best actress slot is filled with Broadway royalty: Angela Lansbury (Deuce), Vanessa Redgrave (The Year of Magical Thinking) and Swoosie Kurtz (Heartbreak House). Tough choice.

Bay Area theater fans got the first peek at several nominees:

Legally Blonde scored seven nominations: best book (Heather Hach); score (Music & Lyrics: Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin); actress (Laura Bell Bundy); featured actor (Christian Borle); featured actress (Orfeh); choreography (Jerry Mitchell); costume design (Gregg Barnes).

A Chorus Line received two nominations: best musical revival and featured actress (Charlotte d’Amboise).

Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me received one surprising nomination: featured actor (Brooks Ashmanskas).

One of the two nominees for special theatrical event is Kiki & Herb Alive on Broadway, which comes to San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater this summer. The other “special” nominee is the ventriloquism show Jay Johnson: The Two and Only.

For a complete list of nominations, visit the American Theatre Wing Web site.

The Tony Awards will be broadcast on June 10 on CBS. Start planning the party now.

Great `Blonde,’ `Spring Awakening’ footage

Can’t make it to Broadway to see Legally Blonde, The Musical?

Well, make you way over to for some EXTENSIVE footage from the show.

You’ll feel satisfied.

Click here.

While we’re at it, you should also check out the Spring Awakening backstage tour conducted by star Jonathan Groff. Watch the tour, then watch the “bonus” footage.

Here’s the main tour.
Here’s the bonus stuff.