Saturday, June 18
Better than: A slushie to the face.
Getting caught up in a cultural juggernaut leaves you ripe for teasing. I casually followed Glee at the beginning, but I didn’t tumble headfirst into true fandom until this season, sacrificing my Tuesdays to write Gleecaps and pushing the show on friends and family at every opportunity. “Fan,” you learn, can become something of a dirty word; when you’re a fan of something mainstream it’s even dirtier. Which is why I reveled in the opportunity to watch the cast of Glee perform live twice in one day at the same venue this weekend. (Before anyone asks, no, they do not actually do drastically different things between shows; I effectively watched the same set of song and dance numbers back to back.)
The word “Live” is obviously a bit of a cheat. Like most pop groups who dance and sing at the same time, a high percentage of the show is lip-synced, with certain songs performed live. The cast’s musicial proficiency varies widely; Chris Colfer, Lea Michele and Amber Riley lead the charge with show-stopping numbers while poor, pretty Diana Agron dully lip-syncs. Heather Morris, who plays the ditzy bisexual cheerleader Brittany, has the most arena experience of the group; she danced for Beyoncé during the “Single Ladies” era.
The show opened with the overplayed anthem “Don’t Stop Believing,” with the original club members slowly being joined by the ever-expanding cast. From there things rambled forward; Morris’s “Slave 4 U” tribute introduced the concept of bondage gear to the five-year-old in front of me; Chris Colfer—a critically acclaimed Emmy nominee and Golden Globe winner with a startlingly unique voice, and my personal favorite—was the first of the performers to break down the fourth wall and reach out to touch eager fans during his touching take on “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”; at the late show Amber Riley followed him up, belting out “Ain’t No Way.” The full club returned to perform Gaga’s “Born This Way,” although just like on TV, the “gay straight or bi, lesbian transgender life” line had been cut. Lea Michele followed up Gaga with Katy Perry’s also-acceptance-themed “Firework,” the first of two Perry songs on the night.
Then it was time to showcase the students from the Glee universe’s Dalton Academy—in particular Darren Criss, who plays Kurt’s love interest Blaine Anderson. He entered to the most thunderous screams of the night and opened with “Teenage Dream,” performed on the smaller back stage; the Warblers walked through a crowd of grabby girls to the front stage during “Silly Love Songs” and closed things out with the crowdpleaser “Raise Your Glass.” Criss’ family, which includes Freelance Whales’ Chuck Criss, was in the house for the late show; his mother bounced and leaped and waved her hands above her head through the whole set until Criss shouted, “I love you, Mom!” Celebrity parents: They’re just like ours.
After the polyester-clad Warblers disappeared Cory Monteith, who plays football-jock-turned-glee-clubber Finn Hudson, served as the guy who reminded the crowd that the show had a narrative structure; he noted that the club was preparing to face rivals Vocal Adrenaline and had to practice. Michele and Colfer turned in a spellbinding take on their Streisand/Garland tribute “Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy”; the snoozefest of “Lucky,” unfortunately, followed. At least watching the Glee club ham it up in the background was fun, and that hilarity continued during “River Deep / Mountain High” where the club, and Monteith in particular, tried to emulate the female dancers with varying results. They finished the main set with Lea Michele’s showstopping tear through “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and upbeat numbers from Monteith and Naya Rivera before closing with the upbeat Glee original “Loser Like Me.”
Of course, they weren’t really done; Colfer-as-Kurt had to take on “Single Ladies.” While the meme may seem a little old, the crowd could have cared less when faced with Colfer’s gyrating hips. Then came time for a fantasy sequence where Kevin McHale, who performed the whole night in his character Artie’s wheelchair, got up to hoof it to “Safety Dance” before sitting back down and leading the assembled in “Empire State Of Mind.” While the Jay-Z track was lackluster on the TV show, the rendition on Saturday was explosive thanks in part, at least, to hometown appeal. It’s hard to sing about New York in New York without everyone freaking out. During the 8 p.m. show local girls Lea Michele and Jenna Ushkowitz donned Yankees caps and seemed to be bursting out of their skin. The night capped off with “Somebody To Love,” more confetti, more screaming, more of everything.
About that narrative. For a TV show that hinges on breakups and makeups, the show’s only couple to receive any explicit story during the tour was Blaine and Kurt, in the form of a skit featuring Brittany towards the end of the night. On last year’s tour she embarrassed herself by hitting on Kurt; to redeem herself this year she sets her sights on someone new, yet equally as unattainable—Blaine. When he turns her down, noting that he’s “taken,” Kurt appears on stage and shoos her off, only to get on one knee and “propose” that his boyfriend join the Glee club for the rest of the evening. Chris Colfer changed up Kurt’s lines each night, suiting his proposal to the city and vamping on topics like the name of his and Blaine’s first adopted child and calling out equal marriage laws in appropriate states. On Saturday he referenced the ensuing marriage equality vote, then dropped to his knee and told Blaine “you complete me” before launching into the various ways he does so—the construction to his Brooklyn Bridge, the waitlist to his Serendipity, etc. Blaine, of course, responded positively and changed out of his Dalton-wear in time to join the group for the final numbers.
The overwhelmingly positive reaction should be no surprise based on the media frenzy over Glee‘s gay storylines this season and the particular appeal of Colfer and Criss, seeing an arena full of fans of all ages cheering for one boy faux-proposing to another made the greasy-nacho-filled hours I spent on Long Island worthwhile. But as charming as seeing boys act out gayness for a mainstream crowd was, the actual touching part of the experience came while I waiting outside and I ran into mini Kurt Hummels. The first was a boy of maybe six, in precious cuffed white jeans, loafers, and a dapper bowtie. He was reserved but clearly happy, toddling home to Brooklyn with his mother. We went to check the crowd near the load-out area, prepared for screaming tweens with posters waiting for a glimpse of Darren Criss or Mark Salling, and while we found that in abundance my eyes were drawn to another six-year-old boy. He’d clearly dressed himself that morning, in stripped leggings, a dress shirt and bowtie, finishing the ensemble off with an amazing gold sequined cape. His mother was holding him as they quietly stood behind the girls, waiting.
Every take-down of the show—it’s too karaoke, it’s too cheesy, it’s too disjointed, it’s too gay—falls down in the face of what I saw on Saturday. As my concert companion pointed out, if you were a mom with a little boy who liked to wear sequin capes, wouldn’t you take him to see Kurt Hummel live on stage? There’s some argument that the TV show and performance aren’t really for young children, except the exceptional kind who probably, in 10 years time, will look back on pictures of themselves at the Glee tour and be really thankful their parents found somewhere they could go and see themselves.
Critical bias: Disappointed that Rebecca Black’s legal battles made the powers that be cut “Friday” from the set list. I never thought I’d be sad not to get “Friday” stuck in my head.
Overheard: “Wait, but really, Darren Criss isn’t actually gay?”
Random notebook dump: My seats during the first show were exceptionally close; i was surrounded by eager 14-year-old girls, a handful of five-year-olds who wouldn’t remember the overpriced seats their parents bought for them, and bored moms and dads. Since we were practically inside the stage, it felt weird if to not smile and wave at the performers. For the nightcap I was stationed between the front and back stages, which gave me a little bit of a broader perspective (particularly because I wasn’t staring at the performers’ asses for half the show).
Don’t Stop Believin’
Dog Days Are Over
(I’m A) Slave 4 U
Fat Bottomed Girls
I Want To Hold Your Hand
Ain’t No Way (8 p.m. show only)
Born This Way
Silly Love Songs
Raise Your Glass
Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy
River Deep, Mountain High
Rain On My Parade
Loser Like Me (with Darren Criss)
Single Ladies (dance)
Empire State of Mind (with Darren Criss)
Somebody to Love (with Darren Criss)