Death, at any age, is always a time of sadness, but it is when someone is taken before their time that the loss seems to be felt more deeply; so it was with shock and an immense feeling of regret that fans received the news of Cory Monteith’s passing. The Glee actor died in July at the age of just 31 after taking a lethal cocktail of alcohol and heroin.
I watched the Glee episode this week in which the show’s stars paid tribute to his character Finn Hudson with an emotional episode titled ‘The Quarterback’. Watching the very real emotion on his former co-stars faces as they performed their on-screen goodbyes, especially his real-life girlfriend Lea Michele (Rachel Berry), I have no qualms in admitting that I found myself shedding a tear or two. The creative team conspicuously declined to offer the audience an explanation for Finn’s death, and there was one very poignant line by Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel) in which he says: “Everyone wants to talk about how he died, but who cares? It’s one moment in his whole life – I care about how he lived.” Throughout the entire episode the line between Finn and Cory was blurred, but for me, it was handled in a way that I think really displayed what the show has been about right from the start; with a lot of singing and a lot of heart.
Glee has always been a divider show. For all its many, many fans, there are probably just as many who dismiss it as nothing more than ‘cheese’. I’ve seen every episode and I am standing tall and proud as a ‘Gleek’. It is cheesy, yes, but you know what? That’s also part of its charm. It has its faults, naturally; the use of auto-tuning is a particular red button topic. The show’s reliance on the synthesized sound has been apparent more and more throughout each season and, in many fans minds, the extent of its use been taken to a completely unnecessary level. There are some amazing singers in the cast, and listening to the likes of Lea Michele, Chris Colfer or Amber Riley (Mercedes Jones), it’s difficult to understand why their vocals have been subjected to this abundant auto-tuning. We’ve heard them sing live, we know what they can do. And some may also recall that on the show, Darren Criss (Blaine Anderson) has accompanied himself on the piano in performances that were not pre-recorded, performances that were warmly received by fans who praised the lack of auto-tuning as a good thing.
There is some truly shocking lip-synching going on in Glee as well, (one of my personal pet peeves) but the show’s good points have always outweighed its bad ones, I’ve thought. Glee continually promotes the message that being different is actually something to be celebrated and that people should embrace who they are and be proud of it. Acceptance and tolerance are major themes of the show, which has dealt with the tough issues of race, gender and sexuality. It has never been afraid to tackle the big storylines, which have included domestic violence, transgender, suicide, teenage pregnancy, bullying, homosexuality, school shootings, and more. It has also been a wonderful advocate of musical theatre, mainly through the characters of Rachel and Kurt and the songs performed by the cast on the show. Songs have been featured from such musical theatre productions as Wicked, The Rocky Horror Show, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago, among others, and the last season built a huge focus on Rachel and Kurt moving to New York to attend the fictional performing arts school, The New York Academy of Dramatic Arts (NYADA). The character of Rachel has always been moulded around her dream of making it on Broadway and she is often seen breaking out into musical theatre numbers which are regularly inspired by her idol Barbra Streisand. Indeed, at the start of the current season, she is told she has been cast as the lead in a Broadway production of Funny Girl; her favourite musical and the role made famous by Ms Barbra Streisand.
Musical theatre has also been present on Glee through its cast and guest stars. Several of the main cast members have former experience performing on stage, the most notable being Matthew Morrison who plays Glee Club teacher Will Schuester. John Lloyd Mills was the first to make a cameo, playing wood-shop teacher Henri St. Pierre, but there have also been appearances by Jonathon Groff (Jesse St. James), Phoebe Strole (Penny Owen), Kristin Chenoweth (April Rhodes) and Neil Patrick Harris (Bryan Ryan). The musical theatre star most commonly associated with the show though is Idina Menzel, who had a recurring role as the coach of rival show choir Vocal Adrenaline, Shelby Corcoran. With the strong physical resemblance between her and Lea Michele too, she was eventually revealed as Rachel’s birth mother.
I know a lot of musical theatre performers who look down their nose at Glee and take great pleasure in criticizing it, which is why I think it’s such a great thing that some of the best names in the business have shown their support with their involvement as guest stars. Idina Menzel in particular, has been very vocal about her love of the show. She was quoted in The Stage last year praising Glee for opening the eyes of the viewing public to the challenges faced by those who work in the musical theatre industry, saying: “It just educates the audiences about the incredible music that comes from these shows, and it gives people a real appreciation…for the work ethic involved. You can tell the kids are rehearsing, recording, dancing, singing – it’s an incredibly disciplined thing. And it gives people a real respect for what we do.”
Glee creator Ryan Murphy recently announced that the TV series is set to end next year. The early death of Cory Monteith scuppered original plans for a sixth season which revolves around the characters of Rachel and Finn, and Murphy revealed that he has re-worked the ending so that it now honours Monteith instead. The timing seems right for Glee to say goodbye I think, but with talk of a stage musical based on the show, it doesn’t seem that this will be a forever farewell. It was confirmed earlier this year that a Glee musical is in the works, but no further details have been given as to who will star in it, or indeed whether it will follow the TV series and its characters as we know them, or just serve as inspiration. Either way, I’m sure that a live stage musical version of Glee will be a sure-fire hit with theatre-goers; the two go naturally hand-in-hand. Musical theatre is such a big aspect of the show it feels that, rather than taking a risk with the stage musical, Glee is simply coming home to where it belongs.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 24th October 2013