Haylie Duff, far right, and assistant choreographer Dennis Jones, to the left of Duff, brief the contestants in Legally Blonde The Musical -- The Search for Elle Woods. Copyrighted photo courtesy of MTV.
We will confess our misgivings up front: It is reality TV, which we have no faith in for substance, and MTV, which completely ceased being relevant to me after the third season of The Real World. Add to that, we saw this before in NBC's dreadful Grease: You're the One That I Want, which tapped the stars of the Grease revival currently running on Broadway.
So, I was not expecting much from Legally Blonde The Musical -- The Search for Elle Woods, which debuted on Monday night on MTV and will run for seven more weeks.
But if the show can stay on the level of its premier, you can shut me up like Professor Callahan.
The object here is to find a successor to Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy as Elle Woods in the Broadway production of Legally Blonde -- The Musical.
One of the best signs this show has a chance to be good comes in the first segment when Legally Blonde director Jerry Mitchell tells the hopefuls, "Casting the next Elle Woods will be my decision."
With those words, we know this will not turn into a popularity contest where the winner will be determined by whoever has the fan base that can text the quickest. It will be a professional Broadway director, plus veteran casting director Bernard Telsey, Legally Blonde book writer Heather Hach and actor Paul Canaan, who tells the hopefuls, "I wanted to be Elle Woods, but there was a height issue . . . "
By then, we also know that the show isn't going to waste our time with preliminaries. No lingering in the hinterlands to see what crazy, delusional people show up at the open calls. We start with the ladies who got to come to New York, and quicklywe are down to a final 15 who have to be whittled to a final 10 in 45 minutes. So we see a lot of dancing and trying to sing the Act I finale, So Much Better, in which the final note is held for 16 bars. We really do get a sense of how tough being in a Broadway show is.
When Emma, a hopeful who claims Broadway is in her blood because her parents met working on the original Grease, asks associate choreographer Dennis Jones if he could demonstrate a move slower, he says, "I am."
Emma provides the most drama of the night, walking in touting her Broadway bloodline but apparently not bringing her A game to the audition. But she makes it, and the show also starts to develop some characters, like Bailey, a 20-year-old Southern Belle from Anderson, S.C., who seems destined to become the show's bumpkin, and Lauren, already becoming the meanie.
There is a classic moment in Lauren's singing audition, where she brags, "I'm not here for my 15 minutes of fame making friends with the other girls."
Hach responds, "But Elle Woods would take it to the top, but she'd also make friends with the other girls."
Lauren starts backing up immediately, "All the other girls here are really nice . . . "
Yes, judging by the preview, there will be some drama, some tears, some backstabbing, and you want a little of that on reality TV.
But like Project Runway at its best, The Search for Elle seems to be aiming to present the process of the craft. The main whining in the first episode is about exhaustion. Bundy, who looks a couple of decades more mature than any of these girls when she meets them at the end of the premier, says, "If you are tired right now, that is nothing."
That does bring us back to the overall misgiving about this process, this premise. Dismissing the final contestant cut, Telsey says, "We can't cast based on potential."
But at this juncture, isn't that basically what this show is doing? None of these actors appear to have much professional seasoning in the premier. So really, they are looking for someone who's right for the part and has the potential to be able to go from this pressure cooker to centerstage at the Palace Theatre in a few months.
That's asking a lot.
But fortunately, watching MTV's Blonde talent search doesn't appear to be asking for too much.