Monday, June 9, 2008

first thoughts: legally blonde the musical: the search for elle woods

It likely comes as no surprise that I'm already riveted by mtv's latest reality competition, Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods. It's not great television, but I am a huge fan of competition reality shows. Giving away a starring role in a Broadway musical is huge. (Yes, I also watched Grease: You're the One that I Want, but that program was silly because viewers got to decide the winners. I'm guessing a different cross-section of America took the time to vote for their favorites than those who actually attend musicals in New York City.) A starring role on Broadway in what is, to my generation at least, an iconic musical.

One of the most amusing moments from the first episode was after a long montage and spouting statistics about the number of people who audition for Broadway each year versus those who are actually cast, let alone go on to win a Tony award. This montage was actually quite moving, and I initially felt like I was literally watching history unfold. How rare for anyone to make Broadway! I'm watching it happen. Cue the entrance of Haylie Duff (the arguably far less talented Duff sister), Broadway star. Suddenly, I'm jaded again and realize the show's producers have probably planted finalists from real rehearsals and are simply using the MTV audience, those teenage ladies with more disposable income than most of the world, as guinea pigs for an eight-week long commercial for the production.

Mike Hale of The New York Times has this surprisingly complimentary opinion:

They give the impression that they were plucked from the sidewalk outside the MTV studios and haven’t stopped squealing since. And as callow as they are, watching them being put through actual numbers from the musical, and comparing the results, is more interesting than watching celebrities learn how to tango.

It's still an entertaining piece of diversionary programming. Attractive young women sing, dance, gossip and cry. Ultimately, Hale is right. There's something much more appealing about youthful optimism learning how to do Broadway, where some of these young women might actually end up one day. It's more refreshing to see people at the start of their career than the end, even if the career itself is in question.

My money is on Emma landing the role. She's Broadway royalty. Her parents met performing in the original Broadway production of Grease (Kenickie and Frenchy!), and her father has four Tony awards. The cynic in me absolutely believe she's planted, but the softie in me doesn't care. She's a dream to watch, and even though she flubbed her solo because she just quit smoking, the judges only negative was that she looks too much like Reese Witherspoon. I'm not gullible enough to believe that's a negative: middle America adores Reese Witherspoon and might trek to the Big Apple to see a talented look alike in a story they know well.

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