Helping Broadway musicals go (sh-k-) Boom!

Kurt Deutsch didn’t mean to get into the record business.

The self-described “total theater guy” grew up in St. Louis going to theater whenever possible (usually at The Muny) and then studied directing and acting in college. His big break came when Evan Handler had to leave the Broadway production of Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound for health reasons (he was diagnosed with leukemia, survived, wrote a fantastic book about it, Time on Fire, and went on to star in, among other things, Sex and the City, so there’s a happy ending here).

Deutsch replaced Handler and did the show for a year and half, and then went on to Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men.

After he moved to Los Angeles, Deutsch met the woman who would become his wife, actress Sherie Rene Scott, while working on Randy Newman’s musical Faust. The show didn’t go anywhere, but the relationship did.

When Scott was getting ready to do Disney’s Aida on Broadway, she was offered a record contract – every performer’s dream, right? – and Deutsch looked it over.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” he says during a phone interview. “I thought we should just do it ourselves, and one thing led to another. I had no intention of doing cast albums or any of the stuff we ended up doing. I was just going to do a record with my wife.”

That was eight years ago, and Sh-K-Boom records, co-founded by Scott (the Sh) and Deutsch (the K), has become a major force in the realm of Broadway music. Originally the label started as an outlet for Broadway performers to show their musical colors outside of cast albums. Scott, along with the likes of Adam Pascal of Rent and Alice Ripley of Side Show, released pop-rock, singer-songwriter albums.

Then original cast albums began to creep into the picture as Deutsch began to learn more about the music industry, recording contracts and business models.

“The usual recording contracts are awful,” Deutsch says. “The record company pays for the record, but then the artist never makes any money off the record. The same kind of contract is given to shows. The royalty deal is horrible because you have to sell so many records to see any money off of it. I thought it was so unfair. I couldn’t believe producers would sign these things. I realized cast albums could be an asset and make money, theoretically. Producers spend all this money creating the shows, why wouldn’t they want to create their own cast album? So we created a different model for producers to share in the revenue from cast albums in an equitable way.”

The music industry is an industry in turmoil. Technology has wreaked havoc with traditional means of recording and distribution – thank you, iTunes. Deutsch has had to be creative and to develop a mission.

“When I go see the shows, there are two aspects I’m considering: preservation and money making,” Deutsch explains. “I know certain shows will probably never make back their investments. I’m very honest with the producer or the not-for-profit that is producing it. We then find angels to support the cast album, which is probably the most important tool if the show is going to have a life beyond this production. If a recording exists, productions will happen.”

Deutsch, of course, is not running a not-for-profit organization. He has to make money to stay in business. But he has gotten good at helping shows find money, whether he taps a moneyed believer in the show, the music publisher or other sponsors.

For releasing cast albums, Deutsch created a separate label called Ghostlight Records (named for the single bulb lamp left on stages after a performance), and among the cast albums he has released are this year’s Tony-winner for best musical, In the Heights, Legally Blonde, The Drowsy Chaperone, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and another recent Tony-winner, Passing Strange, which was recorded live and has the distinction of being the first original Broadway cast recording released in a digital format before it was released to brick-and-mortar stores.

“There will always be something physical people will buy, especially collectors of recordings,” Deutsch says. “Some people will always want to read the lyrics, see photos to get a sense of the show or just have a souvenir of the show, a tangible thing.”

But there’s no denying the fact that the digital revolution has made things easier for distributors: there’s no manufacturing cost, no shipping and customers around the world can acquire the product with the click of a mouse.

With this summer’s airing of MTV’s reality show search for a new lead in Legally Blonde, Deutsch says that Blonde music sales, already one of the label’s strong sellers, increased, with about 50 percent of sales going out digitally.

There was one potentially major gaffe associated with the conclusion of the MTV show, which revealed the winner and new Blonde star to be Bailey Hanks. Deutsch and his crew had already recorded Hanks singing the show’s “So Much Better,” which was scheduled for release the day after she was crowned the winner. But someone at didn’t get the memo and posted a 30-second clip of Hanks’ song days before they were supposed to. There was no name on the clip, but anyone watching the show would recognize Hanks as the singer.

“I was on vacation in Italy and got this frantic e-mail from the executive producer of the Legally Blonde show,” Deutsch recalls. “We had had to sign a confidentiality agreement with the show, and a mistake like that one could have cost us $500,000. They eventually took the clip down. Hopefully someone was fired.”

Part of Deutsch’s creative mission with these recordings is to make original cast albums vital again. He gave away a copy of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels disc with every ticket sold during the show’s Broadway run. For “In the Heights” he created radio-friendly three-minute versions of some of the show’s songs. And Passing Strange went digital in time for its award-season appearances.

He also takes risks, like he did with the musical bare (which will have its San Francisco premiere next year). The small-scale musical about teens in Catholic school, was generating buzz off-Broadway. After meeting with producers, Deutsch recorded a 12-track disc that was essentially given away, mostly to youth groups and summer camps.

“We spent $50,000 to make the record and market it,” Deutsch says. “The idea was to create buzz to get the show to Broadway. Then the money fell apart, and it never opened on Broadway.”

Upcoming releases for Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight include an archival recording of Patti LuPone’s legendary concerts at Les Mouches (Nov. 11), Michael John LaChiusa’s
Little Fish (Sept. 9) and Orfeh’s What Do You Want from Me (Sept. 30). Recent releases include Kelli O’Hara’s Wonder in the World, the cast album for the first Broadway musical of the season, [title of show],
and Lea Delaria’s The Live Smoke Sessions.

“The whole point of this is that we’re part of the community,” Deutsch says. “Sheri is part of the Broadway community. We have a lot of friends in the Broadway community. We’re performers and producers on Broadway, not some big, bad record label guys. We want to help grow Broadway and off-Broadway. This is a great time in history with a lot of great people, and we can help make something to remember them by.”

For information visit or

Annoying `Blonde’ ambition

Oh, the sweet, sweet torture of this ridiculous “Blonde” experiment.

Yes, it’s Week 3 of “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods,” and I’m actually starting to care – not about who wins so much as who gets kicked off the show. There are so many girls I want kicked off, so many girls I want to see cry and be put in their place. Who knew I was so cruel and took such delight in the misery of ambitious young Broadway hopefuls?

We catch up with our nine finalists in their Empire Hotel suite (decorated by Pottery Barn Teen, aka PBTeen, which was a mystery to me in the last episode – and it should only have stayed that way) as they discover their next adventure will involve – yay! – “the piano guy,” Seth Rudetsky. He makes them sing while pedaling stationary cycles. And they belt and they spin, and they belt and they spin. The evil Cassie S. says “it was a piece of cake,” and when we hear her awful vocalizing, we agree it was a piece of something, all right.

There are a couple of old reliable in this show: a) the girls will wear Legally Blonde sweats with “omigod” written across the ass b) Rhiannon will have her mouth open and c) their will be gratuitous sponsor plugs throughout.

Lauren – whose face annoys me, which is a mean thing to say, but it’s true – wins the vocalizing/spinning prize, which is a mani-pedi with Orfeh, who plays Paulette in Blonde on Broadway. “I’m excited to pick on her brain,” the annoying-faced Lauren says.

For their next audition, the girls have to perform “Omigod You Guys,” the catchiest number in the musical (just try to get it out of your head), but the catch is they have to learn the Elle part and the supporting Delta Nu chorus girl parts. “Everybody wants to be the star,” is the mantra, and no one is thrilled with having to play back-up. That’s when Seth so rightly predicts the “be-yotch-ery” will begin. Yes, and it almost all comes from Cassie S. who can’t be long for this reality TV world. It is on between Bailey and Cassie S., and it’s fun. Bailey is more talented but Cassie could kick some serious butt.

Lauren (left) and that annoying face and Lindsey face the chopping block on MTV\'s \"Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods.\" Photo courtesy of MTV

Lauren (left) and that annoying face and Lindsey face the chopping block on MTV’s “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods.” Photo courtesy of MTV

Of course, while the judges are deliberating and choosing the bottom four (host Haylie Duff says, “At least one of you is going home tonight” as if the whole quartet could be summarily dismissed), one of the girls says in full overly dramatic fashion: “It feels like death right now.” Yes, Broadway has always equaled death.

Lauren, Celina, Lindsey and Emma (has there ever been a more self-congratulatory ex-smoker?) are this week’s bottom dwellers, and poor Lindsey, whose performance was pretty dismal, is sent packing. No more PBTeen dream for her.

Find more video on the MTV site here.

Review: “Legally Blonde, The Musical”

Merry musical `Legally Blonde’ dazzles and delights
3 1/2 stars Bright, shiny `Blonde’

(opened Feb. 6, 2007; photos by Paul Kolnik)

The opening number from Legally Blonde, The Musical is, like, really catchy.

So much so that the refrain, “Oh. My.God. Omigod, you guys,’’ bores into your brain and refuses to exit in a timely manner.

It helps that the song accompanies one of the liveliest opening sequences seen on a musical theater stage in quite a while. With expectations riding high, Legally Blonde shoots out of the gate like a prize, Prada-clad stallion and races toward that elusive goal of Broadway immortality.

That is the goal of every new musical, right? Some – like Wicked or Hairspray — even achieve it, to varying degrees.

The latest entry is yet another new musical based on a movie. Unlike last year’s vampire stinker Lestat, this one has blood pumping in its veins. And that blood is a bright shade of pink.

Legally Blonde, The Musical had its world premiere Tuesday at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre, where it runs through Feb. 24 and then re-opens at New York’s Palace Theatre in April.

For a just-hatched show, this Blonde is in awfully good shape, though (not to disparage blondes in any way) it doesn’t have a whole lot going on in its pretty head.

And that’s OK. Sometimes you just want a musical to shake its sparkles at you and make you smile. Rather than feel guilty about that, if the musical is crafted with a degree of skill and intelligence, you can sit back and enjoy.

That’s the kind of show Legallly Blonde is.

Except for that opening song and the title tune, the score by the husband-and-wife team of Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin treads the line of pleasant if unremarkable pop and disco with hints of R&B. There are cute numbers, like “Bend and Snap” and “Take It Like a Man” (an ode to shopping, naturally), but the songs just don’t soar.
Heather Hach’s book attempts to make characters more interesting than they were in the 2001 movie, which, frankly, isn’t much of a challenge. Reese Witherspoon was adorable, but the pleasures of the movie don’t go very deep.

Our heroine, SoCal sorority president Elle Woods (Laura Bell Bundy), has the kind of confidence you don’t often see in a protagonist. We catch her at a weak moment: her chiseled boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Richard H. Blake) has just dumped her because a man with his political games needs “less of a Marilyn, more of a Jackie.’’

Warner’s off to Harvard Law School, and rather than be a victim, Elle decides to follow him.
This means we get a massive production number called “What You Want’’ in which Elle’s a-poppin’. She eschews the standard admissions essay in favor of a marching band, a flag team and a stage full of people singing her praises.

Of course the ploy works, and once she’s admitted, she has many important lessons to learn about being taken seriously and allowing her considerable intellect to compete with her golden locks and designer wardrobe (vibrant costumes by Gregg Barnes).

The hero in all of this is Jerry Mitchell, the Tony Award-winning choreographer who makes his Broadway directorial debut with Legally Blonde.

What you see on stage at the Golden Gate is pure energy and heart. Mitchell and his cast light musical theater sparks several times, but the best number — and a welcome slice of sheer musical theater delight — comes in Act 2 with the unimaginatively titled “Legallly Blonde Remix.’’ David Rockwell’s busy set goes away, Ken Posner and Paul Miller’s lights flare up, and it’s just the cast dancing and singing up a storm, with a whiff of “Riverdance” and a lot of humor.

There are disappointments — like how little Michael Rupert as a cocky law professor and Kate Shindle (Miss America 1998) as Elle’s primary foe have to do. And the score continually promises more memorable things than it actually delivers. Where, for instance, is Elle’s defining, sing-it-to-the rafters number? The ballad version of “Legally Blonde” doesn’t cut it. What does legally blonde mean, anyway?

And the romance between Elle and Harvard teaching assistant Emmett (the charming Christian Borle) is still a few flames short of a blaze. It’d be nice if Emmett had a song that didn’t repeat the phrase “chip on your shoulder” until it hurts.

But then again, there are pleasures like Bundy’s cute-as-a-button Elle, Orfeh as sassy hairdresser Paulette and Andy Karl (Orfeh’s real-life husband) as the UPS guy who steals Paulette’s heart and nearly steals the show.

Though they’re more effective as valley-talking sorority sisters than as Elle’s only-in-her-brain Greek chorus, Annaleigh Ashford, Leslie Kritzer and DeQuina Moore ratchet up the vivacious quotient whenever they’re onstage. They help rev up the feel-good, girl-power motor that keeps the musical buzzing right along for more than 2 1/2 hours.

Legally Blonde, The Musical is a show that wants to delight our inner teenage girl. Not everyone has an inner teenage girl, but for those of us who do, omigod you guys, get ready to be tickled pink.

For information on Legally Blonde, The Musical, visit

Bend and snap to it

OK, so my dreams of Amy Sedaris becoming a Broadway musical star in Legally Blonde have been dashed. But with the official announcement of the full cast, I can hardly be disappointed.

In addition to previously announced Laura Bell Bundy as Elle and Kate Shindle as Vivienne, the cast includes Orfeh as Paulette, Christian Borle (late of Spamalot) as Emmett, Richard H. Blake (late of The Wedding Singer) as Warner, Nikki Snelson as Brooke and — this one is exciting — Tony-winner Michael Rupert (right) as Professor Callahan.

“Going Blonde: The Road to Broadway” is’s ongoing behind-the-scenes peek as Blonde rolls toward its April Broadway opening. Meet the cast in the latest episode here.

Tickets ($35-$90) go on sale to the general public Dec. 3 for the San Francisco run (Jan. 23-Feb. 24). Visit for information.