A Wishful toast to Fisher’s Drinking


The force is strong with this one.

Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, her one-woman stage autobiography, continues its wild ride.

The Bay Area saw the show twice at Berkeley Repertory Theatre before it landed on Broadway. The book with the same name was a New York Times bestseller. And now Wishful Drinking is an HBO documentary. Let the Star Wars nerds rejoice.

The show, subtitled “A one-woman show about being Carrie Fisher,” has its broadcast debut at 9pm Sunday, Dec. 12 and repeats through Dec. 28 (on HBO) and Dec. 29 (on HBO 2).

Visit HBO’s Wishful Drinking homepage here.

I don’t have HBO, so I’ll have to enjoy these clips from the movie and wait for the inevitable (as yet unannounced) DVD. There are more clips on the website.

Watch it: `In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams’

Everything wonderful about the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical In the Heights is captured in the new PBS documentary “In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams.” (The show airs at 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 27 on KQED Channel 9)

In the Heights on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

The program, part of the “Great Performances” showcase, is only an hour, but in exploring why the musical is so special, it manages to capture the fire, passion and youthful spirit of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s still-running hit.

Credit director Paul Bozymowski and his crew for having the foresight to see that In the Heights, about an immigrant neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, had the potential to be a game-changing musical. As the show transitioned from being the toast of off-Broadway to its opening on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, Bozymowski and his camera crew were there, following cast members and building tension and a host of expectations as opening night loomed.

Because the program begins with that exuberant night at last year’s Tony Awards, when, after winning four trophies, the cast hoisted Miranda (the show’s composer, lyricist and star), onto their shoulders, it’s a given that everything works out in the end. But exposing the emotion, the stakes, the work that goes into that happy ending is what this rewarding documentary is all about.

In deep close-up, Bozymowski interviews Miranda, director Thomas Kail and other members of the cast and crew – and it’s a testament to these artists that even with a camera all up in their faces, they can be candid and warm and insightful (especially Miranda, whose giant brown eyes were made for such cinematic close-ups).

In the Heights on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

Then the cameras follows certain cast members into their lives outside the theater. We meet Christopher Jackson (he plays Benny in the show) and his wife and autistic son, CJ. We’re there with dancer Seth Stewart (Graffiti Pete) when, after downing the joint-bolstering dose of glucosamine for the day, he sees a seven-story-tall poster of the show – and of him – being unfurled in Times Square. Other cast members we spend time with include Mandy Gonzalez (Nina), achieving her Broadway dreams and bonding with her character, and Priscilla Lopez (Camila), a Tony-winning Broadway veteran getting her portrait unveiled at Sardis.

The very American experience of In the Heights, which is to say its exploration of “home” and how where we come from helps make us who we are, comes through powerfully in both the interview segments and the lengthy clips from the show itself.

Miranda is the hero, of course, running around like an excited kid on Christmas morning as he shows everyone in the theater a Time magazine article about the show. We get glimpses into his past (“I wanted to be Chuck Jones and Steven Spielberg when I grew up.”) and into his sense of humor. Surrounding all the fuss of opening night, he quips: “It’s like prom night with career ramifications.”

He also makes me wish I could work on a show with him. Sure, he’s talented and charismatic and all that but here’s the real reason: his gift for fellow cast mates on opening night was homemade CD mixes.

“In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams” is at 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 27 on KQED Channel 9 and again at 2 a.m., Thursday, May 28. On digital cable’s KQED Life, the show is at 7 p.m. May 28, 1 a.m. May 29 and 5 p.m. May 31.

Visit http://www.pbs.org/ for information about the documentary. For information about In the Heights on Broadway, visit the official Web site here.


Next month offers another “Great Performances” Broadway treat: Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal and Josh Groban star in a concert version of the musical Chess, with a score by Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice. “Chess in Concert” is at 8 p.m. June 18, 2 a.m. June 19 on KQED Channel 9 (repeates on KQED Life at 7 p.m. June 22 and 1 a.m. June 23). Visit http://www.kqed.org/ for information.

And stay tuned. In the Heights is hitting the road and may be coming to San Francisco. You’ll find out here when it’s official.

Video heaven! [title of show], Beautiful People, Legally Brown

Oh, so many things to watch in this YouTube world of ours.
Let’s get started with a tribute to the now-closed Broadway show [title of show], which had an incredibly devoted and active fan base, as you’ll see in this version of “Nine People’s Favorite Thing.”

Now here’s a taste of the BBC series “Beautiful People,” which needs to hit these shores right NOW!

And finally, here’s the finale of “Legally Brown,” the In the Heights-related spoof of the Legally Blonde reality series. It features, of course, the “ubiquitous Seth Rudetsky.”

Disney hatches a `High School Musical’ flop

The Walt Disney Company never has handled success very well. Surprisingly, abundance of imagination can lead to a hit, then absence of imagination can kill it dead.

Look no further than the “High School Musical” franchise. What started out as a cheap little TV movie one-off has turned into a pop culture behemoth, spawning a hugely popular made-for-TV sequel, an ice show, a touring stage version, a gazillion youth stage productions, a soon-to-be-released threequel on the big screen…and now one of the worst reality TV shows imaginable.

Musical theater actually made some reality TV inroads — as annoying as they might have been — with MTV’s “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods,” which actually did re-cast the lead in a floundering Broadway show and pumped up the box office and the youth popularity factor.

As if Disney’s “HSM” franchise needed any more attention, Disney-owned ABC launched a summer reality series called “High School Musical: Get in the Picture.” The idea was that talent scouts would scour the nation from coast to coast (Alaska and Hawaii included) and pick a dozen young performers (not all teens, but all teen-ish), many pulled from high school drama programs, to humiliate and eliminate week to week. Nick Lachey hosts, and he wanders in from time to time like the amiable guy from down the street who hopes someone will give him a beer.

And the prize? Well, that’s a good question. It’s not money (oops, goodbye ratings). It’s not exactly fame (hello ratings basement). You have to pay attention to even figure out what the prize is: appearing in the closing credits of High School Musical 3. What? Oh, and they might get a recording contract with Disney — as the legal experts put it, you win a “talent hold.”

I’ve been watching, hoping there was something theatrically blog-worthy about the show, but it’s a waste of time. I feel sorry for these kids, many of whom are quite talented. Clearly ABC-Disney has spent a load of money on this thing, but try as they might to drum up drama and cat fights and romantic hook-ups, it all just fizzles.

The only redeeming part of the show is the performances by the kids. Though given horrible coaching, lame storylines and terrible blocking by their “expert coaches,” the young performers do well. The show is a huge cheat (what a surprise) because we supposedly see the kids sitting in empty rooms “rehearsing” with each other, then when it comes time for the performance, they’re moving around a fully built-out set, having blocked every movement and spent time singing along with the pre-recorded music. Clearly we never see any of the real rehearsal.

And the songs. Ick. Sometimes the producers are smart and choose Ben Folds or Jason Mraz. In the last episode, “Connect,” here’s the rundown: “I Don’t Wanna Be” (Gavin DeGraw), “Austin” (Blake Shelton), “Boston” (Augustana), “Bleeding Love” (Leona Lewis) and “One Year Six Months” (Yellowcard).

Then, after the kids perform, the coaches basically rip them apart — not to their faces but to the camera. At the end of the episode (the next one is tonight, Monday, Aug. 18), two kids are relegated to “the chorus.” That means they stay on at this prestigious school of fake TV arts, but they don’t get to work with the really talented kids. The whole point is supposed to be that winning is only the BEST part — the real humiliation comes in small increments throughout the journey.

Sticking talented kids in a lame reality series nominally tied to a Disney franchise really is a new low for reality TV and for Disney, a company that should know better.

Visit the official Web site, watch full episodes and behind-the-scenes clips and see the horror for yourself at: abc.go.com/primetime/highschoolmusical

Here’s my favorite contestant, crazy Bailey:

What the Elle? Bailey conquers `Blonde’

The three remaining girls (from left), Bailey, Autumn, Rhiannon, face the judges one last time. B’bye Rhiannon. Photos courtesy of MTV.

Well let’s just be thankful it’s over.

MTV’s reality show “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods” began seven weeks ago with 50 girls and, as the voiceover told us, “the most intense audition in theater history.”

A bunch of pink outfits and a WHOLE lot of simpering and whimpering later, we have our winner, and may I just say, I totally called this one.

After last week’s mega-challenge in which the remaining three girls had to show off their triple-threatedness, we were promised an early elimination, and sure enough, spunky Rhiannon was ousted for being, well, too darn spunky (and for not having a good enough voice).You’d think girls named after Fleetwood Mac songs would go farther in this world.

That left Autumn and Bailey to duke it out on the stage of the Palace Theatre performing three numbers – “Oh My God You Guys,” “Positive” and “So Much Better” — with the Legally Blonde set, orchestra and cast members. And here’s the twist – they had to rehearse all three numbers in a day.

And just to give them an extra, added little zing, the girls’ parents and, in Bailey’s case, lookalike siblings, were flown in and put in the audience where the cameras could watch them writhing in agony as the girls performed competitively.

The usual judging panel – casting agent Bernie Telsey, Blonde co-writer Heather Hach and cast member Paul Canaan (is he REALLY the “toast of Broadway” as hostess Haylie Duff proclaimed?) – was augmented, mercifully, by Blonde director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, a man with more than a lick of sense, who would ultimately make the final choice.

I loved it when Mitchell told Bailey she was a victim of “shmacting,” meaning she overplayed out to the audience too much.

We saw healthy chunks of both girls’ performances intercut with subtitled comments from the judging panel. It was clear from their girlish giddiness that the judges were loving Bailey and merely admiring Autumn for her beautiful voice. Autumn seems to admire her every asset enough for everyone, so it all balances out in the end.

[SPOILER ALERT] And of course the winner was South Carolina’s own Bailey Hanks, 20. The reveal was anticlimactic and dumb. Then Bailey had to perform “So Much Better” again with the surprise twist that all the previous contestants were her back-up sorority girls. Though we hardly had a moment to take in the reunion as the credits started to roll.

Bailey begins performances at the Palace Wednesday, July 23. I’d go see her if I could out of sheer curiosity and to see if she has the stamina for an entire show. Visit www.legallyblondethemusical.com for information.

Ghostlight is going to release Bailey’s single version of “So Much Better,” the first act closer, on iTunes beginning today (July 22).

And here’s more news: reality shows come in handy when re-casting for a tour or filling in slots on a long-running Broadway show. According to Playbill.com, “finalists Autumn Hurlbert, Rhiannon Hansen and Lauren Zakrin have all been cast in either the Broadway production or the first national tour of the musical, which launches in Providence, RI, Sept. 23…Hurlbert, the first runner-up in the competition, will understudy the role of Elle Woods on Broadway and will perform in the ensemble. Zakrin, the youngest contestant on the reality show, will understudy the tour’s Elle Woods, Becky Gulsvig, and will also be a member of the ensemble. And, Hansen will play the role of Margot, Elle’s best friend, on tour.”

Now one last visit with the brilliant vocal coach Seth Rudetsky, who should have a reality show all his own. Brava, Seth.

Blinded by the `Blonde’

We’re getting so close to the end of MTV’s “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods” that I’d like to just predict the winner and save us all the ridiculous drama. Bailey (right), here’s the starring role. Get to work. Rumor has it that to cover their butts, producers only have to allow the winner of this contest to appear for a week in the show. Then maybe they’ll get a Broadway legend to take over.

I don’t like reality TV’s ludicrous bells and whistles – all the boring gimmicks they use to pump up the so-called drama – and I especially don’t like them on this show. It makes the theater, specifically musical theater, look ridiculous, when, in reality, people in musical theater are insanely talented and work their asses off. As casting agent and show judge Bernie Telsey said of Laura Bell Bundy, the outgoing star of Legally Blonde: “Laura Bell does this eight times a week every night.”

Another benefit of this pound-my-head-against-the-wall-stupid show is that it has given me all new respect for the talents of Ms. Bundy and what she has done with the ultra-demanding role of Elle Woods. I hope she gets a nice long rest and then gets a cushy sitcom that makes her a big enough star so that she can come back and star in a Broadway musical.

So, on to Monday night’s episode and the final four. We have the adult, Autumn, clocking in at an oh-so-wise 28. And then we have the kids: Bailey, 20, Rhiannon, 19, and Lauren, 18.

Their task this week was to learn the complicated and exuberant number (the best one in the show), “What You Want,” when Elle delivers a splashy musical routine complete with marching band instead of writing a personal essay to get into Harvard Law. The idea was to let the girls show their “it” factor all the while proving that they are triple threats: they can sing, dance, act, and the silent fourth threat: be blonde.

The best line during rehearsals came from Lauren (right) commenting on Bailey: “I do not have any liking towards her singing voice.” And as I’ve said before, I don’t have any liking towards Lauren’s face, especially when she gets her Sad Sack Lauren look.

[Spoiler alert]Well, to jump ahead because I’m bored, she had a lot of reason to be sad this week. All four girls got called into the casting office and were told how much they suck. Then Lauren was dumped. But here’s the twist because there’s only one more episode left (hooray!): one more girl is getting booted as a result of “What You Want,” which is an ironic number because it revealed what the judges don’t want.

Here’s the thing, though. Rumors abound in the old Interweb that Lauren has been cast as a sorority sister in the Legally Blonde national tour. If it’s true, that’s not a bad gig for such a young’un.

The promo for next week’s episode promised “the most groundbreaking moment in Broadway history.” What, Chita Rivera is going to be cast as Elle?

Enjoy vocal coach Seth Rudetsky’s rather flatulent wrap-up of this week’s episode.

`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’ reality getting puke-y

So now viewers aren’t the only ones hurling during MTV’s “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods.”

We’re down to six girls at the start of this week’s episode, and by the end of the dance audition, one of them is seen on her knees in a bathroom stall heaving up her guts. Classy.

The girl with the upset tummy was Autumn, the hero of this week’s episode. She got the best line when she admitted she’s not the world’s greatest dancer: “Dance is at the bottom of my triple-threatedness.”

She also gets the Elle Woods merit badge for cheering up the girls when, after at taxing day of dancing on the cobblestone streets of Brooklyn in pink, four-inch heel boots, they are asked to fill out a nasty questionnaire about who they think the worst singer, dancer, actor is of the group, who should have been sent home already and who do they think will win. Autumn quickly reversed the situation by totally disregarding the questions and re-writing them in a more positive, most-improved light.

Aside from Autumn, how boring was this episode? Oh, pretty darn boring. Emma whined some more about her bronchitis. Host Haylie Duff said “the next Elle Woods on Broadway” about 100 times, the girls talked about how exciting this was but how sad that was. Excited and sad. What incredible insight!

I did like Legally Blonde cast member and assistant choreographer Nick Kenkel ragging on Lauren’s face. I’ve decided that when she smiles, she’s adorable – kind of a blond Katie Holmes. But when she’s not smiling – uggh. She scares me. It’s sort of a depressive Miss Piggy.

But I’m getting mean, which indicates boredom. Back to Nick. I liked his dance direction: “Scoop through peanut butter and snap it.”

In the audition, where the girls performed the “Shake Your Junk” section of the song “Positive” (with fun, sexy, humpy choreography that is soooo Jerry Mitchell), the girls who aced it were Natalie, Bailey and Lauren. I think I’m favoring Bailey at this point, even though the show’s editors are trying to paint her as a scheming, bitchy competitor. Natalie’s cute and has great energy, but she comes across as a little girl. And Lauren, well, I think I’ve been clear on that point.

Shortly after her audition, Autumn experienced the Technicolor yawn and — surprise! — ended up in front of the judges in the casting office alongside whiny Emma. [SPOILER ALERT] The judges did the right thing and bid adieu to Emma, who did not have the right lightness for Elle. Good news is now she can start smoking again!

Don’t miss Seth Rudetsky’s wrap-up of the whole episode here. It’s better than the real thing.

And here’s Bailey shaking her junk in the full performance.

`Blonde’ boredom begins

The girls meet the dogs on MTV’s “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods.”
Photo courtesy of MTV.

It’s Week 4 on MTV’s “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods,” and we started with eight girls and ended with six. By the end of this recap I’ll tell you who got dumped, so consider this a spoiler alert and stop reading now if you don’t want this less-than-earth-shattering news.

This week it’s all about bitches – not the girls – the dogs. In the musical (as in the Reese Witherspoon movie that inspired it), Elle Woods’ best friend is Bruiser, a little Chihuahua. So our contestants, under the tutelage of dog trainer Bill Berloni, learn how to interact with their four-legged co-stars. The best that can be said for this segment is this: at least the dogs are cute.

The winner of the dog “challenge” (seriously, the language of reality TV is nonsensical) is Autumn, who with pal Celina, is awarded quality time with Richard H. Blake, who plays Elle’s boyfriend, Warner, in the musical. This is the exact same pattern as all the previous episodes, and it’s BOOOOring.

Then comes the audition: the girls perform the number “Serious” opposite Blake. Rhiannon (who is charming when she isn’t slack-jawed), Lauren and Emma kick some serious butt. The episode’s only real drama came from Emma’s diagnosis of bronchitis. She proved what a trouper is as she performed her best-ever audition while sick as a dog. Now there’s some reality that has something to do with actual theater reality.

After last week’s snark fest, Cassie S. (right) was cruising for a bruising. After getting called out by her roommates for throwing them under the bus in front of the judges, poor little whiny Cassie admitted she doesn’t “do” girls. She doesn’t have girlfriends and doesn’t know how to talk to them. Poor thing. [SPOILER ALERT #2] She so deserved to be kicked off – not just because she’s a brat but because she would have been a terrible Elle Woods.

The surprise of the episode is that they ousted two girls instead of one, which meant San Francisco native Celina – much too alt-sexy to be Elle Woods – was booted as well.

The preview for next week’s episode looks juicy and tear filled. Check out music coach Seth Rudetsky’s video blog – it’s a hoot.

Here are the girls’ full performances of “Serious.”

For previous weeks recaps: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3