`Legally’ bored: Awash in blondes and tears

There they are, the five finalists in MTV’s “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods.” They are, from left, Rhiannon, Bailey, Natalie, Lauren and Autumn. Someone please make the pink blondeness end! Photos courtesy of MTV

Could a dumb reality show be any more tear filled? Last night’s episode of MTV’s “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods” was like musical theater crossed with Hamlet. I don’t think there was one girl who didn’t weep copiously.

So we’re down to five girls: three blondes (Lauren, Bailey, Rhiannon) and two brunettes (Autumn, Natalie). Well that all changed when the girls got Elle Woods make-overs. The blondes got blonder and the brunettes lost IQ points by actually becoming blondes. But that wasn’t the big news from the salon. No, the earth-shattering news was that Bailey WEPT because she had an inch trimmed from her tresses. Yes — tears over a change in hair length only she could possibly notice.

Then the girls went to a photo shoot and had some quality time with the musical’s original (and in desperate need of a rest) Elle Woods: Laura Bell Bundy. One thing this ridiculous exercise in casting has done for me is given me a whole new appreciation for Bundy — who was terrific in the role, even at the beginning when the show had its pre-Broadway run at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre. She’s mature — a real pro with dignity, comic chops, solid moves and a great attitude. Turns out finding someone to fill her shoes is a lot harder than it might seem.

When talking about playing Elle — the best experience of her life, she said — Bundy teared up — the only deserved tears of the whole evening.

After the photo shoot, Natalie won the opportunity to have a meal with Blonde cast member Andy Karl, which was supposed to give her an advantage in the audition scene the girls would go on to perform with him (he’s the understudy for the leading man in addition to playing the adorable UPS Guy and begin married to co-star Orfeh in real life). As usual, this “advantage” was a crock. None of these ridiculous “advantages” have ever proved to be worth anything.

Sure enough, in performance, Natalie (right), even with her blonde locks, was a dud and had no chemistry with Karl. Autumn rocked the audition (where has that voice been hiding?), as did Lauren. Rhiannon was a disappointment because of wonky vocals, and Bailey was like an Elle automaton.

Here’s what I hate about reality shows (not just this one): in an attempt to grab our attention, the host and the judges behave as if their duties are the most weighty and important in the whole universe. Judge Bernie Telsey, while chastising Natalie, Bailey and Rhiannon (who cried herself a river) in the casting office, came across as the chief of a parole board hearing. As if anyone outside of that room really cares at all who goes home.

[SPOILER ALERT] It was no surprise to see Natalie hit the pavement. Poor thing is a blonde now. Life won’t be easy for her. Vocal coach Seth Rudetsky had the best line of the night when, after seeing the new blondes, asked if the carpet matched the curtains. Here’s Rudetsky’s spot-on recap of the show.

For more clips and full performances visit www.mtv.com.

`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 Playbill.com, 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.

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.

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 www.shnsf.com.

Pretty in pink

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Laura Bell Bundy (in pink, naturally) as law student Elle Woods faces off with a law professor (Michael Rupert), much to the delight of fellow student played by Kate Shindle (left) in Legally Blonde, The Musical at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre. Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

We here at Theater Dogs don’t believe in reviewing shows before they’ve opened, but we’re not above buzzing when the preview buzz is good.

Legally Blonde, The Musical had its first preview on Tuesday (Jan. 23) at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre. Spies in the house reported that some set snafus that had dogged final rehearsals were absent and that the show — which opens here Feb. 6 and heads to Broadway with previews beginning April 29 at the Palace Theatre — is a heck of a lot of fun.

Our spy Dogs had a rollicking good time at the show, with especially high marks going to director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s big numbers, Laura Bell Bundy’s unflagging energy and charm and a couple of razzle-dazzle songs.

Reminder: this is not a review, but the spies did have a three-word summation: MAJOR CROWD PLEASER.

For more Legally Blonde info, visit www.shnsf.com.

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 Broadway.com’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 shnsf.com for information.

Jerry’s kids

The SHN/Best of Broadway folks threw a party at Ruby Skye nightclub the other night to entice group ticket buyers to show some love for Legally Blonde, which has its out-of-town tryouts in San Francisco early next year at the Golden Gate (yes, the Golden Gate because they couldn’t built the necessary elevator lifts under the stage at the Orpheum, where the show was originally slated).

Jerry Mitchell, who’s making his Broadway directorial debut with the show (and who also will provide his Tony Award-winning high-energy choreography) was introduced by SHN’s Carole Shorenstein Hays as, “One of the most talented young people of our era.”

Mitchell was joined by star Laura Bell Bundy (Elle Woods), composer/lyricist Laurence O’Keefe (his composer/lyricist cohort, Nell Benjamin, was literally going into labor with her first child in Los Angeles) and co-star (and former Miss America) Kate Shindle as Elle’s brunette nemesis.

After the presentation, Jerry Mitchell and I hustled over to posh eatery Michael Minna for an interview over wine (syrah) and extraordinary appetizers: the ahi tuna tartar and the seared scallops. Unfortunately, the food was so good I don’t remember anything Mr. Mitchell said.

Kidding. I remember it all, and you’ll read it here and in Jones for Theater in the coming months.

I will tell you this: after he takes Legally Blonde to Broadway, Mitchell is heading for Sin City. As the originator, director and choreographer of the annual fundraiser Broadway Bares, Mitchell is a well-known fan of burlesque. Well, he’s taking coals to Newcastle. He’s creating Peep, a strip show starring Little Bo Peep and her fairy tale friends for the Hard Rock Hotel. Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party) has written the score. The show, for which the Hard Rock is building a theater (that’s how they roll in Vegas — build it and they will come), was supposed to usher in the New Year as 2007 turned into 2008, but they’re all so hot and bothered about Mitchell’s show that they want it earlier.

First comes the blonde, then comes the burlesque. Hasn’t it always been thus?

More later, dogs.