MTV casting next star of Broadway musical

MTV's “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods” – now there's a title to savor – presents us with the usual sort of reality-contest questions.

Will it help or hurt 25-year-old contestant Emma that she looks like Reese Witherspoon, the original Elle Woods? Will contestant Lauren, the 18-year-old with the dead eyes and the forked tongue, become the designated villain? Is blond hair – natural or otherwise – an advantage?

Those who love Broadway musicals will have other questions, too. Like: What must Laura Bell Bundy be thinking?

It's Bundy, the star of “Legally Blonde” on Broadway, who will be replaced by the winner of this competition sometime after the TV show's eighth and final episode. (The second is Monday night.)

And while she may not be a Kelli O'Hara or a Patti LuPone, Bundy is a legitimate star at the center of a grueling production, and she's currently giving theatergoers as much singing-and-dancing value for their $120 as anyone on Broadway.

Based on the first episode, the gulf between the 27-year-old Bundy and the 10 fresh-faced, likable, lightweight hopefuls in “The Search for Elle Woods” – average age 22 – is so vast that we seem to be watching two different musical-theater species. (Bundy is shown in clips from the musical and gives the finalists a brief pep talk.)

Even the ministrations of the show's coaches and judges – who include the musical's director and choreographer, Jerry Mitchell; its casting director, Bernard Telsey and the author of its book, Heather Hach – aren't going to bridge that gap. (The owlish Telsey gets to deliver the dismissals: “Unfortunately we just don't see you as the next Elle Woods.”)

But that's just kvetching. (Especially when the original musical filled only 63 percent of the seats at the Palace Theater in the week ending May 25.) These young hopefuls are better suited than Bundy for one thing, of course, and that's getting women their own age to watch a reality television show.

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.

If it comes down to Lauren and contestant Rhiannon, the wide-eyed 19-year-old belter from Utah, I'll still be watching, even if a victory by either one takes us another step closer to the end of Broadway as we know it.