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.

`Blonde’ begat blonde moments

“Legally Blonde: The Search for Elle Woods,” Episode 2
(photo courtesy of MTV)

Here’s the problem with the second episode of this Broadway-bedazzled reality show: NO SETH RUDETSKY. Our girls, all vying to replace Laura Bell Bundy in Broadway’s Legally Blonde the Musical, concentrated on their thespianic skills this week, so they were under the tutelage of Blonde associate director Marc Bruni and cast member Nikki Snelson, who plays jump-roping Brooke Wyndham.

In typical crap reality fashion, the show was edited within an inch of its life, and the repetition of scenes, especially before and after commercials, made it seem like you were watching a stubborn DVR that jumped backward and forward by itself.

From the beginning of the episode, when the girls enter their lodgings, which have been pinkified in every way, the tone was set. “Ten girls can make a lot of noise,” the voice-over says. And it’s true, they squealed like Ned Beatty in Deliverance at the sight of every piece of pink furniture, and one girl described the place as a “PB Teen dream,” whatever the hell that is.

The theme this week was acting. The girls’ audition involved a scene with Nikki Snelson, and based on the near Shakespearean levels of acting required (the phrase “Delta Nu Nu Nu” got repeated A LOT), nine girls moved on to next week, while one got unmercifully sliced from the roster.

But before that, two of the girls, Bailey and Lindsey, won a special prize (well, Bailey won it, mostly for suppressing her South Carolina accent): coaching time with Snelson. But here’s the “reality” twist: they had the session in the Puma store. Such shameless product placement makes shows like this difficult to watch. And when the girls return to their hotel, they’re both carrying Puma shopping bags. WE GET IT! There are many fine things for girls to buy at the Puma store. Thank you for the commercial within the program just before the commercial. And come on, as if this whole show weren’t a big, giant commercial for Legally Blonde, which could stand an infusion of butts in seats.

So during the real audition in front of the judges, when all 10 girls performed opposite Snelson, the gimmick was that Snelson was asked to purposefully drop a line to see how the girls reacted. Consider, as one contestant did afterward, that many of these girls are going through their first Broadway audition process, which is difficult enough. Then to play little tricks is just mean. It’s better for the cameras and for us nasty schadenfreude-infected viewers, but it’s cold. Some girls handled it. Some didn’t — oh, how they didn’t.

Judge Bernie Telsey (a high-powered casting agent) gets to utter the axe line: “We just don’t see you as the next Elle Woods on Broadway.” And this week — SPOILER ALERT — he axed Cassie O., a 22-year-old Ohio native. That’s what you get when you’re named after an ’80s keyboard.

Like all reality shows when you watch them for more than 15 minutes, I’m getting sucked in and I DON’T WANT TO BE SUCKED IN. I don’t like this, but I like it.

Here’s the MTV site for more Legally Blonde stuff.

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.

`Emmett Otter’ on stage

Now here’s a no-brainer: there’s finally going to be a stage musical version of the classic 1977 Muppet made-for-TV musical “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.”

Variety’s Gordon Cox reports that the Jim Henson Co. and iTheatrics are teaming up to create a stage version that will utilize actors and puppets. Paul Williams (Oscar winner for co-writing “Evergreen”) wrote the fantastic score and is on board to contribute more material, and Christopher Gatelli, a current Tony nominee for choreographing the Broadway revival of South Pacific, is slated to direct and co-write the book with Tim McDonald, head of iTheatrics, which is based on a Lillian and Russell Hoban children’s book of the same name.

I remember seeing the original “Emmet Otter” on HBO when it first aired, and it became an instant favorite. My little brother and I knew every line of dialogue and every song. A few years ago, I gave my brother and his wife a copy on DVD (which differs slightly than the old videotape we had), and we watch it every Christmas. The great thing about the show is that it’s set at Christmas but isn’t all that Christmas-y. There are no Christmas songs (don’t change that, Paul Williams!), and the story deals with a very poor widow, who washes clothes and knits socks for a living, and her son, who makes money doing odd jobs around town. During the Christmas season (after Ma and Emmet get their traditional Christmas branch), the town hosts a talent show, with a cash prize of $200 (think rustic “American Idol”). In a sort of O. Henry twist, Emmet has to put a hole in Ma’s washtub so he can play washtub bass in his friends’ jug band, and Ma hocks Emmet’s tool chest so she can buy fabric to make a new dress to perform in during the show.

It’s all very sweet without being stupid, and Kermit the Frog, wearing a scarf and a flannel shirt, narrates. What’s not to love?

Read the Vareity story here:

Here’s a lovely fan-created trailer that makes reference to all the cuts that were made in broadcasts after the original 1977 airing on HBO:

`Camelot’ glimmers on PBS

Set those DVRs.

I guess KQED isn’t too concerned with the “live” part of “Live from Lincoln Center.” The concert production of Camelot that will air at noon this Sunday (May 12) was actually filmed on Thursday, May 8. But who doesn’t love show tunes on a Sunday afternoon? Consider it a Broadway brunch.

Hard to complain, though, when we get to hear the Lerner and Loewe score performed by the New York Philharmonic, Gabriel Byrne (King Arthur), Marin Mazzie (Guenevere) and Nathan Gunn (Lancelot).

Here’s the blurb from KQED:

Live From Lincoln Center presents the New York Philharmonic performing a semi-staged version of the Lerner & Loewe classic Camelot. It’s one of the most endearing musicals of all time telling the unforgettable tale of the legendary King Arthur, whose idealized kingdom meets a tragic end, as well as the wake of the disastrous affair between Sir Lancelot, the King’s most trusted knight, and Guinevere, his beautiful Queen. The program features such classic songs as “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “The Lusty Month of May,” and “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight.”

Channels and Airdates
KQED Channel 9
Sunday, May 11, 2008 — 12:00 p.m.

Monday, May 12, 2008 — 9:00 p.m.

And here’s the official “Live from Lincoln Center” web site with more info:

Now, for your entertainment, here’s a clip of original Camelot co-stars Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet performing a medley from Porgy and Bess on “The Julie Andrews Hour.” God, I miss variety shows. Strange and cheesy, yes, but they sound incredible!

Sir Andrew Lloyd `Idol’

According to “American Idol,” Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is responsible for some of the most “important” musicals of all time.

Wow. That’s pretty big. Step aside, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Back of the bus, Stephen Sondheim. The man who brought us Starlight Express and Catsis assuming the position of importance.

It’s undeniable that Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice helped Broadway take the next post-Hair step toward a more contemporary, rock-influenced sound with Jesus Christ Superstar. But with shows such as Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, Lloyd Webber’s two biggest hits, popular shouldn’t be confused with important.

Lloyd Webber was the “mentor” on Tuesday’s “American Idol” as the remaining six contestants trotted out shiny Lloyd Webber show tunes in the hope of making it to the Top 5.

I know who would make it into my bottom two:

1. Jason Castro (right), whose inability to speak in sentences or use actual words during the brief interview segment makes me think he’s not much brighter than his dreadlocks. Who else but a dim bulb would choose to sing “Memory” from Cats, probably the most popular, most over-sung show tune of the last 25 years? He didn’t have the voice for it, he didn’t make a dramatic connection, and he didn’t make an original arrangement (the way Israel Kamakawiwoʻole did with “Over the Rainbow” and which Castro cribbed in its entirety a few weeks back) that was more suited to his laidback style.

2. Brooke White stopped the orchestra then started again. Oops. Second time she’s done that this season, and it’s one time too many. She sang the Oscar-winning “You Must Love Me” from the movie version of Evita. It was a dramatic attempt (she sure displayed drama hands) but not successful. It’s not a great song by any means. She should have done a tango-infused “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

The rest of the kids did OK. Sayesha Mercado (above) sizzled with a lousy song — “One Rock ‘n’ Roll Too Many” from Starlight Express (not exactly a font of fantastic tunes). She showed personality and sex appeal, and the judges agreed she’d be great on Broadway. No question. Somebody make some calls.

Carly Smithson got to rock it a little with “Jesus Christ Superstar” and did a screechy good job. David Cook turned “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera into something that wasn’t boring. He didn’t rock it out, as he has with other songs in the last few weeks, which was an interesting choice. He also mentioned that he grew up doing musical theater. Makes me like him even more. The last few notes of the song were thrilling.

And little David Archuleta, for me, was the one to beat because he was the only one to make one of ALW’s songs contemporary. Archuleta’s version of “Think of Me” from Phantom came across as something that could be on the radio right now. It actually sounded a lot like what the British boy band Boyzone did with “No Matter What” from Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind.

There was a lot of talk about how difficult it would be for the Idols to perform show tunes because show tunes are so complicated, and judge Simon Cowell (left with Sir Andrew) has already shown his disdain for the “Broadway” sound (which he lumps in with the sound of cruise ships, cabaret and theme parks). But Lloyd Webber isn’t complicated. He has melodies, that’s for sure. But wouldn’t it be interesting to see what the Idols would do with the songs of Stephen Sondheim? Or Michael John La Chiusa? Or Jason Robert Brown? Or Ricky Ian Gordon? Or Adam Guettel?

Now that would be a show tune challenge I’d like to see.

Sucked into the `Idol’ maw

I knew there’d be a theater connection eventually so I could write about it here.

A point of pride for me the last seven years or so was that I had never so much as seen an episode of “American Idol.” It was hard not to know every detail of the show, even without watching it, because it is treated as big news by every news outlet imaginable (except maybe Horse & Rider).

But this season, under the influence of a loved one, I got sucked in and I have even — please don’t judge — voted more than once in the past few weeks.

If you don’t know the “Idol” way, they try to liven things up by having “mentors” come in. The first one this season was Dolly Parton, and when the Idols sang her songs, the results were generally better than you might expect. This week was Mariah Carey, and the boys, surprisingly, outshone the girls singing Ms. Carey’s songs.

Next week, the mentor is Andrew Lloyd Webber, which means that the six remaining finalists — David Archuleta, Jason Castro, David Cook, Sayesha Mercado, Carly Smithson and Brooke White (I did that from memory — somebody save me) — will be singing SHOW TUNES! Never mind that they’ll also be dealing with the weirdness that is Sir Andrew. Remember when he “mentored” on the Grease casting/reality show “You’re the One that I Want”? Honestly, I thought maybe he was a high-functioning autistic man. And remember how generally awful the young contestants were singing his songs? And those were show kids trying out for a musical. I’m nervous about these Idol popsters and the show tunes.

But I’m hoping David Cook (my fave at the moment) sings “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar.

And may I just be petty and say how very happy I am that Kristy Lee Cook (KLC — The Colonel as they say on Television Without Pity) has moved on?

Here’s a little something from YouTube to tide us (notice how I say us assuming that since I’m watching, everyone is) over until next Tuesday. It’s David Archuleta, a young man from Utah with a beautiful voice, sort of butchering “For Good” from Wicked.

In comes ‘Company,’ lots of ‘Company’

Wednesday night (Feb. 20) we’ll experience one of those all-too-rare occasions when we dont’ have to go to Broadway, when Broadway comes to us.

PBS’ “Great Performances” will broadcast the John Doyle-directed Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company on Wednesday night (Bay Area folks, it’s 9 p.m. on KQED-Channel 9). So set those DVRs (or VCRs if you still have them) and revel in the Doyle-ization of Sondheim.

As you may recall Doyle directed Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd to much acclaim, and his gimmick is that he has all his performers play their own instruments. Usually, in my experience, it works one of two ways. If you saw Sweeney first, you thought it was brilliant and though Company was a weak copy-cat effort. But if you saw Company first, as I did, you think that’s where the brilliance lies and Sweeney was sort of a confusing effort to producer a cheaper version of an expensive show.

I loved Raul Esparza as Bobby, the ambivalent protagonist who, on the occasion of his 35th birthday, spends mental energy thinking about all his “good crazy people his friends, his good crazy people his married friends.” In Doyle’s slick, sleek production, everyone who’s partnered plays an instrument, which leaves Bobby, the remote observer, the only one not playing an instrument.

The structure of Company, unlike the more narrative Sweeney, is well-suited to Doyle’s gimmick because the musicianship, combined with the revue-like scenes, provides an arc to the evening that helps pull it all together. It even warms up what is a pretty cold, cynical (not to mention funny) show.

You can watch an excerpt of the opening number here.

Here’s Esparza performing “Being Alive” from last year’s Tony Awards (where Company won a best revival statue):

The unsinkable Debbie Reynolds

It seems Debbie Reynolds has been around since show biz was invented — not show business, but, you know, SHOW BIZ! The razzley-dazzley, tap-dancing kind of show biz.

From her first big break in movies, as demure Cathy Selden opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in Singing in the Rain, Reynolds has been one of the happiest faces on screens large and small.

For one generation, she’s the Unsinkable Molly Brown and the spurned wife Eddie Fisher left behind for Elizabeth Taylor. For another generation, she’s a perennial guest star (“The Love Boat,” “Will and Grace”) and Las Vegas razzmatazzer. For still another, she’s the star of the children’s “Halloweentown” movies. Of course, some only know her as “Princess Leia’s mom,” which is to say, her daughter, Carrie Fisher, is nearly as famous as she is.

The 75-year-old Reynolds is still going strong, to put it mildly. She’ll be at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre one night only Friday, Dec.7, at 8 p.m. Singing, dancing, joking and storytelling (or perhaps whe should say gossiping) will be on the Reynolds menu.

Tickets are $47.50 to $77.50. Call 415-392-4400 or visit for information. The Herbst Theatre is in the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, 401 Van Ness Ave.

For information visit Reynolds’ official Web site at (And catch this, the home page plays “Tammy”!)

Dog Nation: “Kid Nation”

Frequent Theater Dogs commenter Tracy recommends the somewhat controversial CBS series “Kid Nation.” You’d think, as an elementary school teacher, her days would be full enough of kid nations. Here’s what she has to say (and thank you, Tracy, for the contribution).

You’d think I’d get enough of kids from teaching and parenting, but no, right now the only thing I watch on the telly is CBS’s “Kid Nation” on Wednesday nights. Hosted by Jonathan Karsh, it is a reality show set in Bonanza City, New Mexico (a privately owned movie ranch). The pioneers, or kids, range in ages from 8 to 15, and they are on a quest to build a viable society. Each week the kids have challenges and rewards where they ‘earn’ their place in society as upper class, merchants, cooks, and laborers.

You might think “Survivor” meets “Lord of the Flies,” but it’s not like that at all. I am impressed by the kids’ logical thinking and big hearts. When choosing between dune buggies and fruits and vegetables, guess what they chose? Fruits and vegetables! One week, they earned a reward and the choice was between holy books and pizza. They chose the holy books. The kids are natural characters and the producers of CBS do a great job of editing to create somewhat of a plot for each episode. I like Sophia and Zach, and yes, even the beauty pageant queen Taylor. Her “Deal with It” attitude and non-work ethic make things interesting. Alex, with his one adult tooth that looks like a Chiclet, is another favorite as he quips observations about life on the ranch.

At the end of each episode, the Town Council (a group of four elected kids) chooses one citizen to earn the Gold Star, a solid gold star worth its weight in gold ($20,000). This really gets the kids to think about the positive traits of others; however, birthdays trump hard work as one week they gave it to an 8-year-old who was homesick and turning nine out in the desert.

My 10-year old got the whole family hooked on “Kid Nation”! It something we look forward to watching and discussing together.