How to Stream Legally Blonde the Musical - The Lost Archive

How to Stream Legally Blonde the Musical - The Lost Archive

Having a Broadway show filmed for release is an uphill battle - from budgets that can compete with the original capitalization for the stage show, to complex contracts with multiple unions that all have to green-lit the expensive capture.

While over 150 Broadway productions were filmed to date, a sizeable portion of them has either only managed to reach agreements for very limited releases or got lost forever due to expired distribution rights.

From one-night cinema showings to limited TV airings, our Lost Archive looks at all the shows that spent millions on being professionally filmed - but have been long-lost. We detail the history of each production and try to understand the reasoning behind the limited release, and ultimately try to locate the lost recordings.

This week we'll look at 2007's Legally Blonde the Musical:

 


 

Early in 2006, the Screen-to-stage adaptation of Legally Blonde was announced to play Broadway's Palace Theater, following a short pre-Broadway engagement in San Francisco. Making his Broadway directing debut, Jerry Mitchell headed the production choreographing and directing. Producing the show on Broadway was Hal Luftig (Kinky Boots the Musical) together with Fox Theatricals (Jekyll & Hyde the Musical, Red).

Opening on Broadway to strong grosses, Legally Blonde managed to fill one of Broadway's biggest houses at more than 90% capacity for its first couple of months - but following less than favorable reviews from New York critics, grosses started to dip to 70-60%.

Along with the low grosses and declining advance, producers were recovering from their Tony Awards snub, with the musical failing to snag the lucrative Best Musical nomination which (at the time) meant appearing on the Tony broadcast. Nominated for 7 Tony Awards, the show failed to win awards at the ceremony. The musical eventually appeared on the telecast years later, to represent the successful US touring production.

 


 

In an unprecedented move, producers struck an agreement with cable network MTV to air the show in September 2007, just four months after opening on Broadway. With that, Legally Blonde became the first musical to air in full on television while still running on Broadway.

In a deal originally revealed by Michael Riedel of the New York Post on September 5, 2007, producers were quoted explaining the agreement: "Their target audience and our target audience are exactly the same, it’s a complete overlap.”

Riedel mentioned the reason for the filming is the slipping grosses for the musical, which after a strong summer was showing signs of a slowing advance at the box office. 

While some believed the MTV broadcast will help promote the show in the long term, other producers were wary of the move fearing audiences will not come to the Palace if they can get the same show on MTV, for free.

 


 

Legally Blonde and its producers were pioneers in broadcasting a hugely commercial Broadway show while it was still playing on Broadway - with no plans to close. Long before Hamilton and Come From Away came about, Legally Blonde was the first musical to take a calculated risk and broadcast the show in full for free.

Because there were not a lot of examples from the Broadway landscape, producers mostly looked at the success of the stage production of "High School Musical", which was selling out all over the country. The hit Disney movie became a sell-out event on tour, thanks to the success of its Disney channel broadcast.

The same day of the Post article, producers were quick to deny the show is getting filmed - mentioning contracts have not been finalized. The move was mostly to not get an official word out before all unions have agreed to the filming. It was later revealed not all personal contracts were signed with the cast at the time of the Post article.

Two days later, on September 7, a Craig list posting by Classic Entertainment Group looked for audience willing to attend the live filming of the show on September 18, before an official announcement was published. Attendees were asked to be between the ages of 15-25 and be dressed in pink for the event.

 


 

It was later revealed that Legally Blonde will be filmed three times — once in its entirety during a regularly scheduled performance, another without an audience, and finally during the invited filming. 

The footage from the three filming sessions was then combined for the MTV broadcast, with plans to broadcast the show the same month. This was perhaps the shortest timeline of any filmed Broadway show - with the announcement happening early in September, filming just a few days later, and the capture airing on television at the end of the same month (MTV later had to push the air date).

In a statement Tony DiSanto, EVP of MTV's Series Development & Programming, said, "In an MTV first, we are giving fans....a unique opportunity to experience this hit Broadway musical in its entirety like never before. We are creating a one of kind special weekend event -- done in a way only MTV can."

Blonde producer Hal Luftig added, "MTV's endorsement of a show on this level is unprecedented and will benefit the industry as a whole as Broadway continues to expand its audience. This is a great match and we could not be happier." 

The cast of the hit MTV series at the time, "The Hills," was called on to host the pre-show, which included stars Lauren Conrad, Audrina Patridge, and Whitney Port. The broadcast was originally meant to feature a behind-the-scenes program, but due to the short turnaround time the network strived for, the program was canceled in favor of short 1-minute clips before commercials.

Originally set to air on September 29, the air date for the musical was moved to October 13 to accommodate further editing. Laure Bell Bundy then appeared on MTV's "Total Request Live" on October 11 to promote the airing.

 


 

The October 13 premiere managed to reach nearly 1.27 million home viewers and was the most watched television program in the demographic of ages 12-34 during its time slot. Including all subsequent airings, the show managed to reach 12.5 million viewers, with women aged 12-17 representing the highest demographic.

This adds up to more than 7,100 sold-out performances of Legally Blonde on Broadway, compared to the 600 performances the original played during its 18-month run.

Shortly after the broadcast, the original Broadway cast recording of the show rose to #3 on Billboard's Top Cast Albums Chart, from its previous #7 spot. 

The musical was then rebroadcast twice on Thanksgiving, this time including the show's song lyrics at the bottom of the screen. These were the last two airings the network was allowed to broadcast, with the show not appearing on television since.

 


 

Several months later, MTV expanded its partnership with Legally Blonde producers when it announced a new reality TV show, titled "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods". The MTV series was produced by Mark Koops and Howard T. Owens, creators of "The Biggest Loser," "The Restaurant," and "Nashville Star".

Laura Bell Bundy eventually exited the show on July 20 to make way for the winner of the reality program Bailey Hanks. Unfortunenlty, the show had a rough time filling the big Palace theater and was forced to close on October 19, after having played more than 600 performances on Broadway.

 


 

While the show did not manage to last long on Broadway - the show's producers were right in their assessment the MTV broadcast would mostly help fuel the "future of the show".

Looking back at the broadcast of Legally Blonde, MTV managed to take a little-known show and turn it into a global hit that is still playing on stages to this day. The show went on to tour the US twice, had a highly-successful West End run, and multiple revivals. The show is currently playing an engagement at The Muny and recently concluded its West End revival.

 


 

How to watch "Legally Blonde the Musical" today?

Contracts between Legally Blonde producers and MTV from 2007 state that the cable network will be allowed "a total of six airings" only - four during the month of October 2007 and two the following month ("Sing-A-Long" editions). As this was a high-risk venture, producers tried to minimize any potential harm to box office numbers if the airing is not successful.

With the MTV broadcast becoming a hit for the network, the Broadway production still failed to translate the success to box office numbers during its original run. Since the original airing, Legally Blonde producers did not revisit the original 2007 contracts and chose to not negotiate further distribution of the filming.

Due to this, Legally Blonde the Musical was not available in any other form other than the original six airings on the cable network. Theater fans who recorded the broadcast when it aired in 2007 have since distributed their private recordings, which are typically available in low quality formats on popular video sites, generating millions of views to this day.

MTV never released the source material of the show which was filmed in 16:9 high definition, and due to that, the only copies available are SD-quality recordings.

The Legally Blonde filming stars Laura Bell Bundy in the role of Elle Woods, Christian Borle (Emmett), Orfeh (Paulette), Richard H. Blake (Warner), Kate Shindle (Vivienne), Nikki Snelson (Brooke), and Michael Rupert (Professor Callahan).

The production was directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, with a score by Laurence O'Keefe (Bat Boy: The Musical) and Nell Benjamin, and a book by Heather Hach (Freaky Friday).

Producers for the Broadway stage production included Hal Luftig, Fox Theatricals and Dori Berinstein, in association with MGM Onstage, Darcie Denkert and Dean Stolber.