“It was on assignment for the Daily Planet that I had my first experience on the cable access show Freaky Deeky. When I stripped to my boxers and jumped around wearing a pair of Hulk hands at the show’s conclusion, I thought, well, I’ve probably just disqualified myself for every job I’d never want. A year later, I was running across the stage at Patrick’s Cabaret wearing nothing but a Snuggie, yelling, ‘Get naked! Get naked!’ Two years later, Freaky Deeky is over.”
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Let me get this out of the way: by definition, I’m a Gleek. I’ve seen every episode of Glee, downloaded at least a handful of the songs from iTunes, and even follow a few of the cast members on Twitter. But I’m assuming that amidst the crowd of screaming girls who flocked to see Glee! Live! In Concert! at Target Center on Wednesday night, I was the only one in the audience who frequently likens watching Glee to a painful endurance test.
For the most part, and at no fault of the talented acting ensemble, the show is a rambling incoherent mess of inconsistent characters, ADD storytelling, and a newfound insistence on moralizing zeitgeist-baiting. But then there’s always a moment, whether it was Santana’s heartbreaking rendition of “Songbird” in a recent Fleetwood-Mac-themed episode, or the grin-inducing joy of the pilot’s “Don’t Stop Believing” cover, that more than makes up for all the inanity that preceded it. Glee is possibly the most frustrating television show of all time, constantly teasing the audience with flashes of brilliance only to ultimately disappoint with some left-field character twist or a cover of “Hey Soul Sister.”
So it was unsurprising that Glee in concert ended up being a lot like watching Glee on TV; a few minutes of triumph, a lot of filler, and a couple moments of cringe-inducing embarrassment. The problem wasn’t so much with any of the performers—although it was easy to tell which cast members needed vocal backing (Cory Monteith, Darren Criss, Heather Morris) and which ones didn’t (Lea Michelle, Naya Rivera, Amber Riley)—instead, much of the blame went to the show’s madcap pacing and reliance on songs ripped directly from Top 40 radio. While the first season of the show stayed truer to the typical musical theater style of letting songs tell the story, the series’s sophomore season started to depend on current Billboard smashes that moved digital sales but frequently halted narrative momentum. The same trend made unfortunately made it over to the tour as well.
Wednesday’s show, which in true season two Glee fashion was sponsored by AT&T and Samsung, largely panned out like someone had put on a disc from the Now That’s What I Call Music series. Michelle sang Katy Perry’s “Firework” amidst a stage of exploding pyrotechnics, Criss and the rest of the Warblers danced around to Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” and Katy Perry’s (again!) “Teenage Dream” to the night’s shrillest screams, and the whole cast got together to attempt to salvage Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” While none of these performances were bad by any means, each of them felt rootless, and with a mind-boggling 24 songs crammed into a 75-minute show, it was hard to feel any type of connection with any of the performances, no matter how talented the person singing was.
That’s not to say there weren’t a few terrific vocal performances. Naya Rivera is quickly becoming the show’s breakout star, and she proved why with a spirited performance of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” and a sexy duet of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” with Amber Riley, her velvety husk never once losing total command. Riley herself had a moment early on with a sensational take on Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way,” although even that was condensed into a shorter running time that robbed it of some of its natural build. Most upsetting was how much the show underutilized Lea Michelle, Glee’s far and away most talented vocalist. Perhaps the director thought Michelle’s Broadway voice wouldn’t translate well to stadium shows, but her “Happy Days Are Here Again/ Get Happy” duet with Chris Colfer was without question the night’s most impressive performance. Michelle was cheated of a big solo Broadway number, but considering that the aforementioned Garland/Streisand tribute was one of the few moments of the night when the audience chose to sit down, maybe the director knows his audience better than I do.
The men of the show didn’t fare as well as the ladies, and it had nothing to do with my own predilection for divadom. Besides Colfer’s duet with Michelle and the surprisingly strong showmanship of Kevin McHale (who’s normally insufferable on the show), most of the guys failed to inject enough charisma into their performances to avoid sounding like they were at the Vegas Lounge. Cory Monteith’s “Jessie’s Girl” could be heard at almost any bar in America and Mark Salling didn’t quite have the bad-boy appeal to adequately sell “Fat Bottomed-Girls.” Even the hyper-talented Chris Colfer disappointed with his delicate version of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” In the quiet constraints of the TV series, the rendition worked wonders, but for an audience of 13,000, it failed to properly connect. To make matters worse, someone thought it would be a good idea to have the rest of the cast appear on stage towards the end of the song to inexplicably start frantically waving at people in the audience. The less said about the already passé acoustic cover of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” the better.
Their were a few bits of meta-commentary in taped segments featuring Jane Lynch and Mathew Morrison between performances that poked fun at the confusion of whether we were supposed to be watching the actors perform or somehow accept that the show’s perennial underdogs were suddenly performing for a legion of screaming fans, but no one in the audience seemed to be thinking about it that much. They clearly loved it, and while it was fun to see kids enjoying themselves, the intense reaction to the pop songs of the moment just made me feel even more nervous about the upcoming direction the series might be taking. But mainly I couldn’t stop staring at the gorgeously ethereal Diana Agron and constantly wondering to myself how on earth anyone could justify swindling her of her summer hiatus and inevitable movie stardom just to have her croon a single Jason Mraz tune with Chord Overstreet.
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Sarah Rattanavong-Wash reports on the actor’s conversation with Joe Dowling.