STAGE TO SCREENS: How Do We Love "Glee"? Let Us Count the Ways

News   STAGE TO SCREENS: How Do We Love "Glee"? Let Us Count the Ways
 
It's April 13, which can mean only one thing: "Glee" day! 

Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel Photo by Patrick Ecclesine/FOX

We know there's some big income-tax thing happening this week, too, but we're having trouble focusing on anything other than the return of Fox's Golden Globe-winning musical series; after all, we've been waiting more than four months for a new episode. Since we love talking about the show—and we suspect a few of you do as well—we thought we'd gather up a few Broadway Gleeks and find out just why they consider themselves fans. But first, we thought we'd try to squeeze a little bit of information out of Glee's newest guest stars, Jonathan Groff and Idina Menzel. The Spring Awakening star and Wicked Tony winner — and avid Glee viewers—pop up in Vocal Adrenaline (he as a singer, she as director), the glee club that made everyone's jaws drop in episode 1 with its fierce rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab."

Groff had worked with Glee co-creator/exec producer Ryan Murphy on an F/X pilot ("Pretty/Handsome") that never got picked up. When Ryan began working on "Glee," Groff reveals, "He said that if the show continued, he would create something for me." And, naturally, when the call came, he "jumped at the opportunity" to join the cast. Groff plays Jesse St. James—a marquee-made name if there ever was one—the lead singer of Vocal Adrenaline, the rivals to the talented, lovable misfits of McKinley High's New Directions. He's "super confident, super ambitious, and super talented." Think of him as the equivalent of Lea Michele's Rachel Berry. Conveniently, Jesse and Rachel meet, and "sparks immediately fly. She's never met a peer that wants to be famous just as much as she does!" Not surprisingly, he can't tell us much about his musical numbers—there's a sort of omertà around specific titles—but "I can tell you that pretty much every single song that I sing is something that I never would have dreamed of singing!" (Okay, Groff can't reveal details, but that doesn't mean that Michael Ausiello can't. Listen for him on Lionel Richie's "Hello" and—as future "Glee" guest star Neil Patrick Harris' "How I Met Your Mother" character would say, wait for it—AC/DC's "Highway to Hell": http://ausiellofiles.ew.com/2010/03/14/glee-spoiler-alert-major-scoop/.) Working with his Spring Awakening co-star Michele has been "illegal fun," Groff says. "That's the only way to describe it. We're so comfortable with each other that I think we really challenge each other to do our best. And I get to sing and dance on TV with my best friend!" SA fans rejoice: Groff says we'll "definitely" be seeing him throughout all of the nine returning eps.

Jonathan Groff
photo by Patrick Ecclesine/FOX

Menzel guest-stars as Vocal Adrenaline coach Shelby. "I'm pretty ambitious and driven and passionate about my job. And in the first episode I meet up with Will"—rival glee club director Will Schuester, played by Matthew Morrison—"and we have a little altercation. That's as much as I can tell you." Okay, maybe she can tell us a little bit more. "I don't sing in the first episode." What? Noooo!!! "And then I don't appear for a couple episodes, and then I come back." Menzel also reveals—well, it's been reported—that Shelby and Will end up in a pretty hot-and-heavy lip lock. "It was my first day," she laughs. "I said, 'How nice to meet you!' and then had to make out with Matt Morrison." Well, all in a day's work… Like Groff, Menzel has been a "Glee" viewer from the beginning—"My husband [Taye Diggs, currently starring on ABC's "Private Practice"] and I TiVo it"—and was particularly pleased with one musical number in particular. "I thought they did a great job on 'Defying Gravity'." And, also like Groff, she can't reveal what songs she's singing, "but I will say that I really enjoyed what I'm being asked to sing—and just the whole vibe on set…. They work really hard. The kids go from set to dance rehearsal on to the recording studio—it's unbelievable how hard they're working." Menzel also appreciates being on a show that values Broadway experience. Of Murphy's comment that "if you have a Tony, you can be on the show," she replies: "I love him for saying that, because especially in this town it's nice to be appreciated for being from the theatre." And, she adds, "to be on such a special show, to keep working a little bit but also spend all this time with my son"—her son, Walker, was born Sept. 2, 2009—"I'm just so fortunate. Plus, to be on set with other theatre actors, there's nothing like it. There's just a way we all act—whether it be creatively or silly or emotionally that you can't repeat." So we've let the guest stars sing the show's praises. Now we'll let a few of Broadway's own do it. Here are just a few reasons why they (and we) love "Glee":

Because It Lets Kids Be Themselves

"My generation didn't do glee. We were sort of too cool. We were like, doing drugs—we didn't have time to do after-school activities," says Harvey Fierstein (currently touring as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof). "I grew up in community theatre, which is the closest I know to that. I started at age 14. I know what it did for me—for my creativity, for helping me mature, for being a different sort of kid… These are the kids that have such passion, but their passions are looked down upon—and now they've actually got a TV show that they can emulate and say, 'I'm not alone in the world,' 'What I love other people love.' It's fabulous."

Because It Takes Them Back

"It reminds me of my experience in high school," says Jennifer Laura Thompson, featured as slinky soprano Diana in Lend Me a Tenor. "It brings together all types of people who ordinarily probably would not hang out, but who have a common love for music, and ultimately develop an appreciation for each other." (Presumably, people weren't throwing slushies at Thompson.) Because of (well, sure!) the Music—and They All Have Favorites: 

"When the black girl had the crush on the fairy—'Bust Your Windows'—I really enjoyed that. I thought [Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes] did a great job with that song," says Fierstein. "Bust Your Windows" was also hit with La Cage aux Folles' Christophe Caballero: "I love it when they have numbers that kind of appear out of nowhere—I remember they were doing a car wash, and the cheerleaders ended up dancing." Memphis' Kevin Covert "loved the dueling 'Defying Gravity' between Kurt and Rachel. I thought that storyline was so poignant, and for that character to be on TV—for Kurt to be so young and so aware of who he is as a person—I certainly didn't have that growing up. I hope that speaks to a lot of the youth." Nick Adams (a.k.a. Angelique in La Cage aux Folles) loved Lea Michele's "Don't Rain on My Parade. "I thought it was funny watching the episode where they all put on the wigs and did Hair," notes Hair's new Berger, Ace Young. "I would love for them to come out to New York so we can show them how to do it. If that Rachel girl wants to see New York City, I'd be happy to show it to her." And Trevor Braun, one of the Michaels in Billy Elliot, loves it all: "I love musicals, and this is a musical every week. They even make pop music sound Broadwayish."

Because They're Making the Uncool Cool

"It's made musical theatre cool for people who aren't as exposed to it as we are in New York," says Rock of Ages star Constantine Maroulis. "It's making singing cool for everybody—you don't have to be perfect looking, or the most popular…. Anyone can be interested in music and go for it." Adds Adams: "I'm always a big fan of shows like this—and anything like "American Idol" or "Dancing With the Stars," things that aren't necessarily the genre of Broadway but get people excited in the art form of singing and dancing. They're putting out a tour, which also will then get people to see them and might spark their interest in seeing a Broadway show, or it might get them interested to join their glee club. I think it's funny—that they've made a nontraditional, non-popular activity in high school into such a popular show."

Because It's Actually Getting Kids Interested in Performing

"One of my friends teaches at my high school," says Covert, who attended John Handley HS in Winchester, VA, "and said that since the show premiered, the amount of kids that have signed up for choir next year has almost tripled."

Because They Wouldn't Mind a Guest Spot…Hey, Can You Blame Them?

"OMG, I want to be on it soooo badly. I could play one of the little brothers," says Braun. "I have Broadway musical experience!" But we must give props to Mamma Mia!'s Raymond J. Lee, who actually made a video. "It took me a day to record the song, then three days to shoot and a week to edit," says Lee, who's now in the process of making a second video that will follow Fox's official casting-call rules. This one, however—which is completely Gleek-tastic, if we do say so ourselves—did get posted on Lee's friend's blog, and forwarded to Fox's head of casting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi1Zsyp2tEU

So, who knows when you may see Lee—or anyone currently milling around the Great White Way—roaming the halls of McKinley High?

Cory Monteith, Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch
Cory Monteith, Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch
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