This past Friday was particularly exciting for me because it was the start of my Spring Break, but for some theater and television enthusiasts, there was another reason to count the hours down until this Friday: Glee. That’s right, Fox’s Emmy Award winning TV show that somehow made being in a show choir “cool” has been running for 5 seasons and reached it’s one-hundredth episode just as I reached my long anticipated break.
Now before you jump to any conclusions about me, let me come out and say that I am not a “Gleek” (as fans of the show are affectionately known) by any standards, in fact, I’m not a fan of the show at all. This will most certainly not be a love letter to Ryan Murphy’s musical award winner, nor will I spend the entire time bashing the show (although believe me, I've done that). No, for this particular post I'm going to try to focus on everything that's good about Glee (trust me, I had to dig for it). Because, for better or for worse, Glee has made somewhat of a positive impact on theater and that’s why, whether you’re a fan of the show or not, you have to give Glee some props.
Perhaps the biggest positive thing that Glee did was make performing “cool” in high schools. My experience has shown that a huge portion of theater enthusiasts (especially musical theater) such as myself truly fell in love with theater during their high school years. This is an important time in young person’s life as they try to find a social niche, prepare themselves for a future career, and simultaneously express their present feelings. If theater is going to hook future performers, producers, and patrons, then high school is without a doubt the time to hook them. This is one area where I feel glee represents theater fairly well. In glee we can see the tight bond that all of the club members share, the diverse types of people that are drawn to the stage, the joy that they get from performing, and, in later seasons, the peaks and valleys of pursuing a theatrical career. Of course, Glee does not offer a perfect representation of high school performing arts. Unfortunately, Glee up-plays the competitive tension between performers and athletes (which I have never seen to be the case) and, like most Teen TV shows, depicts far more “drama” than one can find in the standard high school performing arts department. While every theater department has its divas, I can assure you that the majority do not rival those found at Mckinley high. However, despite these exaggerated or fabricated qualities, Glee did make more high school students consider spending their hours after school on the stage, and that’s always a positive result.
Another way that Glee has impacted theater for good is by showcasing the incredible talent that Broadway has to offer. A large portion of Glee’s principle actors (including Lea Michelle and Matthew Morrison) were chosen for the show because of their Broadway experience, and some of the show’s cast (such as Jane Lynch) have actually been propelled into the Broadway spotlight because of their success on Glee. Additionally, a large majority of the shows guest stars and recurring characters (such as Idina Menzel and Skylar Astin) come from Broadway fame. While it always saddens me to see such talent stolen from the Great White Way to fit into the small screen, I recognize that it’s a far more lucrative and glamorous medium and I couldn’t be happier for the performers who finally get the money and publicity that their caliber deserves.
Finally, Glee has morphed into a conduit to bring theatrical material (specifically songs from musicals) into the main stream. Now, this is good in some ways and bad in others. It’s good because in this age of life-like video games and IMAX movies, theater needs all the publicity it can get. I know plenty of people whose first experience with certain Broadway songs were the Glee version, and by doing episodes based off of real musicals (such as The Rocky Horror Show, and Grease) Glee is drawing an audience for the theatrical productions themselves. However, it’s bad in that many of the songs covered in the show are twisted versions of the originals. For whatever reason, Adam Anders and Peer Astrom, the music producers for the show, find the need to re-arrange all the songs that are selected. Sometimes this rearrangement works really well and the song takes on a new life and still pays tribute to the original. However the majority of the Broadway remakes from the show that I’ve heard (especially the ones put into a mash up) end up turning the songs into an abomination. In such instances, Ryan Murphy’s goal to blend chart topping pop hits and show tunes takes a tragic turn and it sours many theatrical enthusiasts (including myself) to the entire show.
But when all is said and done, despite the fact that I don’t agree with the arrangements and even though I choose not to watch Rachel Berry, and the rest of the kids at Mckinley High sing through their angst ridden lives on a weekly basis, I still appreciate Glee for what it’s done for theater. Because if the past 100 episodes have introduced even one young artist to the magic of theater, then I say bring on 100 more.
Do you agree with me? Do you think I was too hard on Glee? Or too nice? Are you glad to see it reach this milestone? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!