Laura Bell Bundy takes a bow on the opening night of Legally Blonde -- The Musical, April 29, 2007. Before she bows out, we'll see her a few times on the MTV reality/competition show that will name her replacement. Copyrighted Herald-Leader photo by Aaron Lee Fineman. Below: A moment from Legally Blonde The Musicial: The Search for Elle Woods. Copyrighted photo courtesy of MTV.
This isn't argument Bundy is making. She has said nothing against Legally Blonde The Musical -- The Search for Elle Woods, the MTV show that premiers tonight with 10 aspiring starlets competing to inherit Elle's hot pink wardrobe. In fact, she's promoting the show, will appear in several episodes and help train the winner for her big debut.
But you cannot deny that this show is a purely commercial move designed to keep Blonde in the spotlight after its Tony Award-nominated star exits. Yes, there is always that chance that The Search will turn up some diamond in the rough, a previously unknown talent with the skills, magnetism and stamina to fill Bundy's pink high heels.
But that's doubtful, because Bundy didn't walk into the show straight out of Lexington Catholic High School, and that's not how most of Broadway's leading lights got to center stage. Bundy first turned heads when she was 10, taking an Obie Award nominated star turn in Ruthless! The Musical. She had roles in movies such as Jumanji and guest turns on Home Improvement that you can still see on Nickelodeon. If she'd been born 10 years later, in an entertainment landscape like today's that offers more opportunities to child stars, she could have been a Miley Cyrus or Ashley Tisdale. But she actually went to high school here, then went back to New York and walked onto a plum role in a hit daytime drama, followed by a Broadway debut in a Tony Award-winning musical. When we talked to her directors and colleagues on Blonde, almost all referred to the years of work she put in leading up to this show as being of paramount importance to her landing and succeeding in the part.
She paid her dues, but even more importantly, she gained valuable experience that prepared her for a colossally demanding role that is plausibly billed as being as big as Gypsy's Mama Rose. Granted, Blonde does not have Gypsy's literary cachet. But as Elle, Bundy is dancing, singing, acting a range from humor to heartache and basically executing every play in the triple threat book with only a few minutes off stage.
It is a role you work up to, not one you walk into off the street.
Broadway already tried this once, when the revival of Grease held a reality show audition for the leading roles of Danny and Sandy. Likable Max Crumm and Laura Osnes won via viewer votes over a few folks who had more seasoning, and the opening night reviews were not kind. Normally, these roles have gone to veterans who worked their ways up through the ranks or were filled with a little stunt casting. Actually, Grease is resorting to that now, with American Idol champ Taylor Hicks joining the cast for the summer.
Broadway is a business -- big business. And with so many lights on Times Square producers need to do something to make theirs shine brighter. Maybe being the show with the girl from MTV will help Blonde, now well into its second year. But it's not a move that shows a tremendous amount of respect for Bundy, her supporting players or hundreds of other actors who have put in their time on auditions, rejections and bit parts to get roles like this. And in many ways, it will put the eventual winner of the contest in precarious position she'll need Elle-like determination to overcome.
Starting tonight, we'll find out if anyone fits that bill.