We Love Music: Glee Live 2011 at the Verizon Center

Sing // Photo by Rachel Levitin

The pilot episode of the award-winning Fox television program Glee describes the definition of its moniker within the first two minutes of run-time. “By its very definition,” the show reveals, “Glee is about opening yourself up to joy.” Two seasons and a few Billboard records later, Glee has gone beyond its namesake. It is a cult classic in the heart of its heyday.

The show’s drawn a devoted group of fans who have deemed themselves “Gleeks.” They are a proud group stretched over a wide range of demographics preaching the same message of acceptance and love of music over all else. Whether you’re a fan of the program or not, it’s impossible to deny the influence Glee has had on an expansive American audience.

Born This Way // Photo by Rachel Levitin

Since 2009, the witty banter between the fictional William McKinley High School teachers and the accurate portrayal of a Midwestern high school experience gained a fan base equivalent to your standard Dawson’s Creek crowd. It’s the show’s infectious recipe of music set to personal relationships and dialogue that loaned its appeal to a musically oriented television viewer.

Glee would not be Glee without its cast. In his fight to keep the glee club alive at his alma mater (where he has since become a Spanish teacher), ex-glee clubber Will Schuester (played by Broadway star Matthew Morrison) says, “There is no joy in these kids. They feel invisible. That’s why every one of them has a MySpace page.” Those words in the pilot episode set the stage for a program that touches its viewers beyond a visual picture show. They reach their viewers with verbal and non-verbal dialogue set to music.

Fast forward two plus years and the Glee kids have left their fictional high school classroom in Lima, Ohio for their second tour as “America’s Favorite Glee Club.” They even stay in character while on stage.

Glee Live 2011 is a concert for the fans, first and foremost, but if you’re a fan of any of the individual cast members’ work outside of Glee then it’s worth the price of admission — guaranteed.

That’s not to say the live show didn’t have a weakness. It did. But, that weakness did not overshadow what was going on inside the Verizon Center. The cast of Glee have chemistry, they use it to their advantage, and then they top it off with the true, undeniable talent of the cast’s unique performers.

The live show’s biggest weakness was the venue. The Verizon Center, or any arena for that matter, is not the right place to host a Glee Live show even if it will make the most money on a one-night-only tour schedule.

In 2010, Glee Live traveled to four American cities on its debut tour while performing multiple dates at each stop. Venues included: Dodge Theatre in Phoenix, Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, Ill. (just outside Chicago) and Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

According to attendees at both the Rosemont and Radio City Music Hall performances, the show was intimate and paid homage to the practices that it preached on-air.

An increase in popularity, ratings, and demand is the cause for an 18-stop North American Glee Live tour in 2011. Say goodbye to the warm performances of 2010; the 2011 arena tour makes it pretty difficult to hear the cast sing.

Friday // Photo by Rachel Levitin

Shrill teenage cries are understandable during anything Mark Salling (Puck), Chord Overstreet (Sam Evans) or Cory Monteith (Finn Hudson) does on stage, as is anything by the Warblers and teen heartthrob Darren Criss (Blaine Anderson). It’s warranted. That’s fine. I remember what it was like to be a teenage girl at a pop concert.

Here’s the unfortunate fact: trying to hear Lea Michele and Chris Colfer’s harmonies during a climactic key change in the middle of a Judy Garland/Barbara Streisand mashup duet resulted in failure. The Verizon Center was the cause of that failure — not because of its acoustics or sound technicians — but because of the colossal audience. It detracted from the glee club’s attempt to create an intimate musical dialogue with their fans.

It’s not the cast’s fault that they got as popular as they did as fast as they did, but the live show would be more about the music if it stuck to theaters instead of arenas.

Take veteran stage performer Lea Michele, for example. The ease she sings with during each episode of Glee as Rachel Berry, dating back as far as her pilot performance of the Les Misérable classic “On My Own,” is for real. She could be running around stage or executing choreograped dance moves, it doesn’t matter; her perfect posture and steady voice is dependable and consistent, giving each pitch its full duration and worth. Even if a note waivers for a moment, she finds a way to transform that waiver into an imaginative melodic line. It’s a pleasure to witness her perform live.

It’s a shame hundreds of teenagers felt the urge to shriek their heads off during her solos, though. As much as Glee is a pop culture production, it’s no Beiber show (Writer’s Note: click the previous link — musical pun included). It would have been nice to hear her over the teenybopper audience but with that kind of talent her staying power goes without need for mention. It will be fun to watch her career progress.

Jessie's Girl // Photo by Rachel Levitin

Her co-captain on the show, Monteith’s Finn Hudson, was by far the most energetic of the bunch, with Colfer’s Kurt Hummel close behind. Either the makeup artists painted that ecstatic grin on Monteith’s face or that look of utter content really was unmatched by his cast mates. His rendition of the Rick Springfield 80’s classic “Jessie’s Girl” exemplified how far he’s come as an actor turned singer since landing a staring role on Glee.

Other notable vocal performances included Colfer’s rendition of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Naya Rivera’s (Santana Lopez) version of “Valerie” and Amber Riley’s (Mercedes Jones) version of “Ain’t No Way.”

Colfer has a vibrato and melodic control of the likes I’ve never heard live before. He’s an emotional performer with technical precision to be rivaled – and all at the age of 21. The joint act of Rivera and Riley for the “River Deep, Mountain High” duet portrayed their strengths as individual presences on a group stage.

Dance masters Harry Shum, Jr. (Mike Chang), Kevin McHale (Artie Abrams), and Heather Morris (Brittany S. Pierce) showcased their moves during Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” featuring McHale on main vocals and Britney Spears’ “I’m A Slave 4 U.”

It was a night to share the music America’s fallen in love with and the characters who prompted the love affair held up their end of the bargain.

Don't Stop Believing // Photo by Rachel Levitin

Right before he was about to quit teaching for good in the pilot episode, glee club leader Mr. Schuester is convinced by school guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury to stick with the club and his new students. Why? Because she confronted him with a video of his high school performance at the National Glee Club competition and he looked happier than she had ever seen him.

Why was Schuester so happy as the 1993 version of himself? Because he loved what he was doing. He was singing with his high school glee club.

“I knew before we were half way through with that number that we were going to win,” Schuester said. “And being a part of that, in that moment, I knew who I was in the world.”

Music has that way with people. Glee just so happens to be the current pop culture enabler of that feeling. Seeing Glee Live was a way to be a part that, even if just for a few hours, from within the confines of the Verizon Center.

Rachel moved to DC in the fall of 2005 to study Journalism and Music at American University. When she’s not keeping up with the latest Major League Baseball news, she works on making music as an accomplished singer-songwriter and was even a featured performer/speaker at TEDxDupont Circle in 2012. Rachel has also contributed to The Washington Examiner and MASN Sports’ Nationals Buzz as a guest blogger. See why she loves DC. E-Mail: rachel@welovedc.com.

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