In my previous post I mentioned that I’m a total dork for the show Glee. Well dork doesn’t adequately describe it until you’re in your mid-twenties and actually paid $100 to go see Glee Live! at Radio City Music Hall. The show itself sold out in something like negative 45 seconds; I don’t have a clue how my friend got us tickets. In the end I had to pretend to be someone’s out of town, wheelchair bound cousin. I probably earned myself some Hell points for that one. But that’s nothing compared to the level of utter desperation the young Glee audience has for a live view of the beloved cast.
The Glee phenomenon is pretty crazy and surprising on some levels. Fox teased audiences by airing the pilot in the spring of last season, allowing just a glimpse into what would become total future fervor. I admit I was on board right away. I knew the awesomeness of Lea Michele from the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of Spring Awakening and numerous soundtrack listenings. (If you’re into the new wave of rock inspired musicals, and love you some LM, I highly recommend checking out the music.) Though I never dove into musical theater whole heartedly in my own career, I’m still a devoted fan, so the premise of the show was totally alluring to me. I mentioned in my Tony post how Hollywood is infiltrating Broadway. Yet Glee’s siphoning of show tunes into mainstream television, mainstream TEEN television to be more precise, is going to have a HUGE affect on acceptance of Broadway numbers, shows, actors, writers, etc. into more popular mainstream entertainment. Which I think completely rocks. Though they mostly sing hit, chart topping songs, the inclusion of show tunes and actors like LM, Matthew Morrison, and Idina Menzel are helping out the cause. I can see the hesitation in Hollywood and the music biz fully accepting such a thing. If there are awesome, young performers out there who can actually bust a glass with their voices, what will happen to their manufactured pop princes and princesses like Britney Spears and…whoever else? (Sidebar: I’m not really up on who the latest Disney kids are. I know vaguely about Justin Beiber, I think there’s also someone named Demi and someone named Gomez. I assume they all are 15 and can’t really sing.) Disney princess and nepotism beneficiary Miley Cyrus had quite the remark on the show’s popularity. She reportedly said, “Honestly, musicals? I just can’t.” Uh, can’t sing? We know Miley. And kid, if it weren’t for musicals you’re career wouldn’t exist. Besides, the Glee peeps seem to be kicking ass on the music end of things anyways; the shows albums are selling like Hot Pockets.
Speaking of the recordings, I think since the pilot’s inspired introduction via Journey’s “Don’t stop Believin’” the show has lost a little bit of its amateur charm. An A Capella aficionado friend of mine points out how overproduced and auto tuned the shows numbers have become. The performances always had an element of fantasy to them in the beginning, but later in the season I noticed myself commenting more frequently, “this is a High School Performance??” They definitely lost a lot of the A Capella element that they had going on. Granted, I might be a little out of touch, I don’t really know what a Glee Club is. My high school life was full of Chorus performances, Musical Theater ensembles, A Capella shows and full out productions, but we never had a Glee Club. So…fill me in folks. Is a Glee Club comprised of singers with a band and dancers? Glee’s rival club, Vocal Adrenaline seems more like a dance troupe with a pre-recorded backing vocal track than a singing outfit. What gives with all of this overproduction?
The Glee Live tour then was their opus of overproduction, but that’s exactly what all of the spectacle is suited for: the stage. As I mentioned, my friend managed to get us some pretty swank seats in the center on the right aisle. Simply lining up to enter Radio City, I felt like I had aged 20 years in an instant. The average audience member was about 8-11 years old, accompanied by a parent, and donned a homemade tee shirt. Before the show began, cheerleaders roamed the aisles handing out special gifts from Sue Sylvester: Barf bags. Her reasoning made clear in a later taped message; that the Glee Club sucks so much that it’ll make you barf. I managed to snag one, if only to see how much it’ll go for on Ebay.
Glee’s Harry Shum Jr.’s own dance troupe The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers opened the show. The popping and locking and spinning and jumping were all really impressive, though it’s not really my thing. But the teen girls sure loved it when the guys took their shirts off. Then after a quick video bit from Mr. Schuester and Sue Sylvester, we heard the familiar opening notes of “ Don’t Stop Believin’” And oh…..my…..god…. The place BLEW UP. Radio City Musical Hall is an enormous venue, with probably one of the most sophisticated sound amplifying designs in the world. So imagine thousands of perfectly heard screaming teenagers. I could not hear for like three days after the show, and the audience kept up that enthusiasm for the rest of the night. Which is great! But I kept having to remind myself that it was not 1998 and I was not at a Backstreet Boys concert.
The show as a whole was completely awesome. In addition to their Journey ode, the cast did show favorites like, “Jump” (complete with mattresses), “Push it” (with quite the scandalously sexual moves), “Beautiful”, “Sweet Caroline”, “Bust your Windows”, and “Like a Prayer”. By the time Lea Michele made her way down the left aisle singing “Rain on my Parade” the screaming fans no longer fazed me, I was all in. And when she literally marched her Glee cast members down the aisle, I squealed like a 12 year old when the boys came down our side and I managed to get high fives from them all. I’m a dork. Among my favorite numbers were the Kurt and Rachel duet of “Defying Gravity” (tons better than the half assed version on the show) and Tina’s “True Colors” which, as one of the closing numbers on the last night of the tour, moved actor Jenna Ushkowitz to tears while singing. Vocal Adrenaline made an appearance to perform “Rehab” and “Mercy” though Vocal Adrenaline in this case really was just a dance troupe with a pre-recorded backing vocal. Jesse St. James actor Jonathan Groff, who had not appeared at any of the other tour stops, made a surprise guest appearance to join his hag Lea Michele in “Hello” and received some especially enthusiastic applause from little teen crushers (male and female). There was also a fantastic revival of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” with all of the awesome costumes, guy and girl Mash-Up’s and a duet with Santana and Mercedes for “The Boy is Mine”. WHY don’t they let Santana sing more on the show?? That girl can give Rachel Berry a run for her money. On that note, if you’re wondering how some of the actors did singing live versus singing in a studio I can happily report that most of them did damned fine. The actors portraying Rachel, Kurt, Mercedes, Santana, Artie and Tina all knocked it out of the park, with Finn and Puck hitting par. Brittany, being originally hired for her dance ability, let her awesome moves speak for them self. Known for having the weakest vocal ability, however, Dianna Agron (Quinn) was denied any sort of solo. Ouch. Accompanying the musical numbers were some great affects, like mattress trampolines, a fully functional SUV and pyrotechnics.
Any hesitation I experienced while walking into Radio City or hearing the screams was completely negated by the awesome show. I’m really glad I got to see such a rare production; though I have a feeling they’ll do it again. Here’s to hoping that the second season of Glee will tone down the overproduction (doubtful), cut back on the theme nights and stunt guests (also doubtful) and maintain its combo of dark snark, witty commentary, comedy and show tunes (probable). Don’t stop believin’.