Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Glee" Goes Meta

I am usually at least a day behind on my TV watching, and this week is no exception. And of course, regular readers know my theatrical origins lie in musical theatre and high school chorus, which explains my love of Fox's hit show "Glee."

Here in the East (and in the late 70's), chorus wasn't the spectacle that Mid-Western Show Choirs are today. We simply wore gold sweaters with black dickies and performed standards, classical works and show tunes on risers, grouped by vocal range. I started as a freshman tenor, but by the end of my sophomore year, was singing baritone. It wasn't until college (and a wonderful acting professor), that I developed into a full basso profundo. But that's really neither here nor there.

I've watched "Glee" from the beginning, and while it is often uneven in its story-telling, it is more often glorious in its production numbers. Yes, Jane Lynch is amazing as the evil Sue Sylvester and Lea Michele and Amber Riley are often astonishing in their vocals, but this week's episode, entitled "Dream On," featuring a hilarious guest spot by Neil Patrick Harris, totally belonged to Kevin McHale as Artie.

For those unfamiliar, the character of Artie is confined to wheelchair, due to an accident which left him with a crippling spinal cord injury. Artie's fondest dream is to dance, expressed earlier this season by McHale's jazzy interpretation of Billy idol's "Dancing With Myself." This week, encouraged by his girlfriend Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Artie had himself a fantasy sequence in which he danced in a mall flash-mob to Men Without Hats' 80's hit "Safety Dance." Choreographer Zachary Woodlee pulled out all the stops and created a number that was not only amazing to watch, but referenced the numerous "Glee" flashmobs which have been cropping up all over YouTube. How meta is that? I've embedded a rather clumsy video below, but you can see a very clear and wonderful version here.

Here's the poor quality version:

And here's my favorite "Glee" flashmob event in Rome, last December:

"Dream On" also revealed that rival Glee Club mentor Shelby Corcoran (the incomparable Idina Menzel) is actually the birth-mother of Rachel (Michele). Their duet on "I Dreamed a Dream" was nothing less than heartbreaking. Of course, the physical similarities between Menzel and Michele made this a foregone conclusion, as soon as Menzel made her first appearance on the show. Still, it was nice to see that all of the speculation was right.

To be honest, given my personal High School history, it may be difficult for me to be completely objective about "Glee," though I will be the first to admit that its plots are often far-fetched. But with guest stars like NPH; Molly Shannon; the always amazing Kristin Chenowith; Menzel; Josh Groban and Olivia Newton-John; along with some of the best arrangements of popular music (both new and old), the show's creators have managed to produce TV's first successful episodic musical. Previously, shows like "Cop Rock" "Eli Stone" and "Viva Laughlin" failed miserably, mostly because they were just plain silly. By setting their musical in a high school glee club and casting some amazingly talented (and attractive) performers, creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Fulchuk and Ian Brennan have tapped into the angsts and joys of high school life, something all of us can relate to.

Next week's episode, like the Madonna-centric episode a few weeks ago, celebrates the music of Pop's latest sensation, Lady Gaga. I, for one, can't wait.

More, anon.

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