08 November 2010


I was interested to read today a clearly thoughtful and truly concerned critique of the television show "Glee" by American Theater Wing Executive Director Howard Sherman. I was surprised to see Sherman choose to critique "Glee" (though not until he establishes himself as a fan of the show), not because I want to defend it as one of the best shows on television (although in its better moments, I really think it is) but because of what the show does for musical theater and specifically Broadway.

Before "Glee," was the average young American listening to selections from Victor/Victoria, Funny Girl, or Gypsy on his or her iPod? Um, no. Musical theater geeks like me, who spend actual time debating whether Alice Ripley's voice will make it through the Next to Normal tour (fingers are crossed), may have been familiar with some or all of these songs and shows. But beyond existing Broadway fans, this music was largely lost to the general public.

No more. Now, when "Glee" does a Rocky Horror hour, video from the Broadway cast of the show performing "Time Warp" on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" surfaces and people are suddenly comparing the Glee kids to Raul Esparza, Daphne Rubin-Vega and, yes, Alice Ripley. When Lea Michele belts "Papa, Can You Hear Me," people are clamoring to re-watch a Streisand classic. And the fact that most tickles Broadway-baby me? The fact that millions of people who have never set foot in New York city are appreciating the talents of the likes of Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Jonathan Groff, and (soon!) Cheyenne Jackson. Who else but "Glee" gives us - and these actors - such an incredible gift? Broadway will always be better than "Glee," but "Glee" is the all-important bridge. Broadway should kiss the ground that "Glee" walks on.

To directly respond to Mr. Sherman's criticism that there are no rehearsal sequences in "Glee" and this fosters unreasonable expectations, I submit the following:
  1. In the first episode of the series, the original six "Glee" kids are rehearsing "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" and Mr. Schue is coaching them before Rachel declares that they suck. The second time we meet Vocal Adrenaline, we see them in the midst of a very trying rehearsal. And while we do see many fully realized production numbers without explicit rehearsals (which would pretty much kill the exuberance and drama of the piece when it's finally presented - think if you watched rehearsal periods of a musical before seeing it performed and tell me it wouldn't lose some of its magic), we hear Rachel discuss storyboarding, Mike and Brittany reflect on last-minute choreography, and Finn make musical selections based on his desired narrative. Isn't it better to get a taste of everything that is involved in creating a musical, or just a musical number, than to simply see practice after practice and assume that's all that happens before greatness? (We also see the benefits of a good director when Emma struggles to handle a production in Will's absence and the struggle to find a compatible collaborator on choreography when the group unfortunately recruits Dakota Stanley … if Mr. Sherman needs more examples, "Glee"'s got 'em.)
  2. Some of the musical sequences are undoubtedly fantasy - Kurt's "Le Jazz Hot" and "Rose's Turn" come to mind - and that beautiful transition between reality and fantasy is what movie-musical translations like Chicago did brilliantly and with which "Glee" continues to play promisingly. It's a great device to contrast the "real" performed musical numbers and get into the head of a character, so common in musicals - think Billy Elliot's dancing dresses.
  3. Concerns with a character spontaneously breaking into song? From a musical theater lover? We're just going to have to let that go because everyone sees the irony there.
  4. How many times does Schue have to say, "From the top!" before we believe that most of what we see, except what's performed for a formal audience, is all rehearsal?
I can get behind so many extremely valid critiques of "Glee" - inconsistent characterization, losing the plot, too many themed episodes … the list is long - but lack of rehearsal simply isn't one of them. Also, glee club is an extracurricular activity, there hasn't been a drama club since Sandy left, and Heather Morris is giving an Emmy-worthy performance. Respect.