OPINIONS RUN strong on "Glee," the all-singing/all-dancing musical dramedy on Fox that recently completed its second season and lands here tomorrow night at the Wells Fargo Center in concert form with 14 of the youthful players and none of their on-screen, adult chaperones.
But like it or not, there's no denying that "Glee" has become a sizable cultural phenomenon and game-changer.
Built around a motley crew of high-schoolers who share a passion for singing and a predilection for backbiting, "Glee" picked up where "High School Musical" left off, albeit with far better and more pointed writing, actual character development and diversified music.
As a result, "Glee" has managed to expand greatly on "Musical's" Disney fan base. "Glee" attracts a U.S. audience of more than 11 million viewers a week. It's the No. 1 entertainment (as opposed to "reality") show with teens. But it also does extremely well with the young adult (18-34) and 18-49 viewers, explaining why major brands Chevrolet, Samsung and AT&T have signed on as show and tour sponsors.
"Glee" recently concluded its second season with a bummer of a sing-off contest. At least the New Directions crew still has a goal to strive for, right? And, take heart, Gleeks, there'll be plenty to keep fans fired up through the hot weather months.
Show producer Ryan Murphy has summoned a new spin-off - a 10-part reality show called "The Glee Project," premiering Sunday night on Oxygen. "Project" aims to find the next great singing/dancing/acting addition for the third season of "Glee" and maybe beyond. Some show characters will be high school seniors, so what happens then? (See Ellen Gray's take on Page 25.)
And for all those not fast enough or willing to score pricey tickets to tomorrow's concert, take cheer that a film version "Glee 3D Concert Movie" will be popping out of movie screens for two weeks starting Aug. 12.
Of course, lots of "Glee" haters aren't buying into any of this. A significant portion of the population just can't abide the artistic conceit of actors suddenly breaking into song, let alone with a really big production, to share their innermost feelings and concerns. (Where did the fancy costumes and scenery and that big orchestra suddenly come from? Hey, this is high school!)
Then, too, "Glee's" creators continuously push the envelope with controversial themes and satirical attitude, mocking everything from sex education to religion. Friends who're parents of a "tween" and precocious new teen have declared the show "off-limits" for their kids. And I honestly believe that if "Glee" were on any network other than Fox, the reactionaries over on the Fox News Channel would be railing about how "dangerous" and "corrupting" the show is.
I and the wife, though, think "Glee" is one of the best things going on TV - full of tart fun and surprise. And it's become a vitally important purveyor/promoter of pop culture and positivity. Let me Gleekfully count the ways.
Created by an openly gay man, Ryan Murphy (who also dreamed up "Nip/Tuck" and "Popular"), "Glee" has been celebrating diversity and inclusiveness since day one, its preview debut in May 2009 and official premiere four months later.
Both outed and closeted gay and lesbian characters are now prominent in the plot lines, normalized and with sympathy shared for any scorn they endure.
Regular characters also include a guy in a wheelchair, a cheerleader with Down syndrome, plus your usual mix of whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, thins and chunkies, jocks, bimbos and brainiacs, committed virgins and easy lays, liberals and conservatives, true believers, agnostics and atheists, Gentiles and Jews.
All that inclusiveness plays out especially well in song. The centrally focused character of Rachel (played by Broadway veteran Lea Michele) has the most powerful set of pipes, and took an early plot advantage winning leads with the New Directions singing group.
But as the show has evolved, many others like the openly gay Kurt (Chris Colfer) and his kissy, touchy boyfriend Blaine (Darren Criss) from the rival school Warblers, their sassy soul sista Mercedes (Amber Riley), agent provocateur Santana (Naya Rivera), guitar-playing paraplegic Artie (Kevin McHale), the stereotyped ditz Britney (Heather Morris) and the unlucky-in-love pairing of Finn (Cory Monteith) and Quinn (Diana Agron) have also come to the vocal forefront.
In the stage show, kicking off nightly with the show's unofficial theme, "Don't Stop Believin'," each cast member likewise gets his/her special moment (or three) in the spotlight, with anthems such as "Somebody to Love," "Loser Like Me" and that medley of "Teenage Dream," "Silly Love Songs" and "Raise Your Glass" sung by Criss and his fellow Warblers, actually the Tufts University Beelzebubs.
A funny thing happened a couple of weeks ago, when the "Glee" cast's lead adult performer Matthew Morrison (a/k/a glee-club coach Will Schuester) released his debut, self-titled album. It debuted pitifully at the No. 24 slot, with sales of a mere 16,000 copies, then dropped the next week to No. 53.
Shortly thereafter, Morrison's slow-selling headlining tour (including a scheduled stop at the Mann Center for Performing Arts) was canceled. Turning lemons to lemonade, it was announced that Morrison has taken on a gig as "special guest" on the already well-selling tour with NKOTBSB (New Kids on the Block merged with Backstreet Boys). Morrison wasn't with them here at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday but will be opening their July 29 date at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall.
Oh, then in virtually the next breath, "Glee" recurring guest star (and Schuester love interest) Gwyneth Paltrow let it slip that her recently announced recording deal with Atlantic Records was suddenly kaput.
So what does this all mean? Probably that "Glee" singing performers don't automatically become bankable, individual stars. Except maybe for actress (and rarely singing) Jane Lynch. She who plays the comically cruel cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester has earned many a movie role in the wake of her "Glee" exposure.
Ah, but please to look at what a colossus the "Glee" collective is in moving music. To date, the brand and ensemble have sold more than 32 million song downloads and 10 million albums worldwide - significantly helping the music industry for the past two years to finally reverse an ominous decline in overall sales.
With a fan base that's ready, willing and able to hear, click and instantly buy something they like (with as much as 90 percent of the sales being digital downloads), the "Glee" cast now holds the record for the most titles on the Billboard Hot 100 by a nonsolo act. In the wake of the finale, five tracks from the last two episodes simultaneously appeared in the Billboard top 100 singles chart, including, for a change, a couple of originals. You go, kids!
While it's cool to hear the troupe serving up a slightly different treatment of a current hit like "Born This Way" or "Rolling In the Deep," "Glee" does far more good by introducing new generations of listeners to pop and showtune gems from their parents' and even grandparents' eras. It's great for bonding the disparate viewers, too, a notion show writers also underscore. Some gags are clearly directed at older viewers, who then have to explain why, say, Santana's idea of emulating the Hells Angels "protection" of the Rolling Stones at Altamont wouldn't really be such a great idea.
Swedish-born musical director Adam Anders and executive producer Murphy are masters at repurposing hits to service a plot line, usually coming up with the song suggestions "after the writer has given us the script," Anders shared at a Grammys in the Schools event in February. The show's musical director also is a master at mashups - putting tunes together in unexpected ways - and in altering the arrangement of songs "because you have to make it different from the original."
"From day one," he said, "Glee" has won support from major songwriters/performers "who're fans of the show, who approve the uses even though we have small budgets for the music rights. We pay nothing like they can get from a movie placement. Yet even Paul McCartney sent me a mashup suggestion."
For this season's finale, Anders threw hip-hop beats against the classic 1940s showtune "New York, New York (It's a Wonderful Town)" by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green and made it totally fresh. Then on the same episode Kurt (Colfer) sang a song from "Gypsy" in, you should pardon the expression, totally straight fashion, with the same brassy horn and string-endowed arrangement that supported Ethel Merman's Broadway belting in 1959.
Philadelphia-based songwriter (and Hooters member) Eric Bazilian said the TV team was respectful and wise in its treatment of his song that ponders what if God was "One of Us" (originally a hit for Joan Osborne) in this season's most controversial "Glee" episode "Grilled Cheesus." That's the one wherein Finn believes he's spotted the face of Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich and has been duly blessed, sparking other Gleesters to take stands both pro and bashing religion.
Bazilian's showcapper was allowed to "speak for itself." Yet by placement and changed tone, other songs like R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" and the Beatles "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (slowed to a prayerlike ballad by Colfer) took on new meanings.
"The next week, the 'Glee' version of 'One of Us' was the No. 4 best-selling track on iTunes, and 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was at No. 7," Bazilian recalled with bemusement. "Hmmm, bigger than the Beatles. Yeah, that was a magic moment for me."
No established artists have done better from belated "Glee" exposure than Journey and Madonna (first season) and lately Fleetwood Mac. After the entire May 3 episode was themed around the songs and dark backstory of the Mac's 1977 album "Rumours," the album reappeared at No. 11 on the Billboard album chart! And it's still in the top 100, as is another comeback set, "Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits."
"Glee" wasn't the first episodic TV show to features characters repeatedly breaking out in song. Anybody remember "Cop Rock"? "Eli Stone"? "Viva Laughlin"? All were expensive flops.
But thanks to the success of "Glee," others are trying the musical/dramedy mashup again. Yes, ABC has passed on the pilot for the gospel-toned "Hallelujah," created by "Desperate Housewives" formulator Marc Cherry, and another series to have featured original songs by Disney fave Alan Menken.
However NBC has bought "The Playboy Club," which plans to have its lead character sing on each episode and bring in guest acts portraying stars of the (early '60s) era, such as Ike and Tina Turner.