FIRST LOOK: Glee's Biggest, Craziest, Most Expensive Show Ever
You could say Glee's Season 2 finale, airing May 24, has been two years in the making. After all, it was always co-creator Ryan Murphy's intention to shepherd his freakishly talented group of misfits to meet their destiny: the fictitious national glee club championships in New York. And like the Fox show's characters, who devour Manhattan in a frenetic first-timer's visit, Glee hit NYC over five days in April with the sort of precision you might expect of a commando military mission: 10 moving targets, including Times Square and Central Park, which serve as part of the glee club's life-changing tour of the city. The episode ends with the climactic competition and a death -- victim as yet unknown ...
Even with the franchise ambitiously expanding into 3D movies, a national tour and an Oxygen reality series (The Glee Project), it was the L.A.-based show's first major location shoot, and pulling it off took the proverbial village. Forty of its 175-person crew were flown east, including executive producers Murphy, Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk (who directs) and Dante Di Loreto, as well as first assistant director Leo Bauer and most of the cast. Local crew swelled Glee's ranks to over 100. Price tag: $6 million. A hefty budget even for a show that this season averaged an impressive 3.9 rating in the coveted 18 to 49 demo.
The result is, as Murphy describes it, "a place of possibilities -- the New York you dream of." The production also found a way to reference the city's iconic imagery from such classics as On the Town, Hair and Taxi Driver, but with legions of Gleeks at every location, the shoot became more like a post-modern version of the Beatles fandom flick A Hard Day's Night. Grab your earplugs …
By 11 A.M. on the first day of Glee's weeklong location shoot in Manhattan, 200 fans are already pressed up against metal barriers at the north end of Times Square on 47th and Broadway, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Manhattan and a stone's throw from the Great White Way. "This is manageable," says Di Loreto as he surveys the swelling crowd. The volume, however, is another matter. As a siren lets out a piercing wail, production assistant DeeDee Katcher is heard muttering: "Whose job was it to shush ambulances? Fail!"
At Times Square's recently revamped TKTS bleachers, where the girls (Dianna Agron, Jenna Ushkowitz, Heather Morris, Lea Michele, Ashley Fink) strut down the steps in the first of multiple segments of a "New York, New York"/"I Love New York" mashup, the cast and crew are equally awestruck by the sheer number of eyeballs upon them. "Seeing that mass of people watching us do what we do every day is a little intimidating," says director of photography Chris Baffa. "Apparently we're somewhat of a popular show."
It's a sentiment echoed by stars Michele, Cory Monteith and Naya Rivera, who describes the scene as "insane. I didn't know we had that many people that cared. We're always in such a bubble that, unless we're on tour or something, we never get to see it."
Chris Colfer is both flattered and at times frightened by the pandemonium. One fan nearly tears off a piece of his costume, forcing the production to amp up security. "It's all from passion," Murphy says. "It's not crazy loon folk; they're just excited to see Kurt and Rachel."
A track prerecorded by Glee's music guru, Adam Anders, blares as choreographer Zach Woodlee demonstrates a hip swivel that leads the girls down the bleachers. If it looks improvised, that's because "there was no rehearsal," Woodlee laughs. "Sometimes you only get five minutes."
Later that day, the cast heads to the Gershwin Theatre, home of Wicked, for a news conference with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting had to approve the myriad permits to facilitate the shoot. "He's on board now," Di Loreto says. "They need to create limitations for us." For instance, amplified sound is verboten. And today, the ranking officer from the New York Police Department's movie/TV unit has repeatedly warned sound mixer Tom Nelson to lower the volume on the music the cast is lip-syncing to. The biggest challenge about shooting in New York, says Di Loreto, is "the amount of people who can say no."
Enter Bloomberg. It's exactly 4 p.m., and the mayor approaches the podium flanked by executives and castmembers including Kevin McHale, Harry Shum Jr., Darren Criss, Morris, Chord Overstreet, Mark Salling and Monteith. Fans are corralled on 51st Street, and as Bloomberg surveys the crush of photographers and videographers in front of him, he muses wryly that he can't recall the last time one of his news conferences was so well-attended.
What the mayor does remember, however, is some leftover dance moves from the Saturday Night Fever era. With fingers pointed to heaven and hell, the mayor's spontaneous pose elicits chuckles from all assembled. Says Morris following the photo op: "I was dying. He cracked me up."
Inside the theater a half-hour later, Michele and Colfer film a scene that has them sneaking inside to sing "For Good" from Wicked on the famed Gershwin stage. Wicked looms large in Glee lore: Idina Menzel (who plays Rachel's biological mother on Glee) originated the role of Elphaba, and Colfer was, in real life and in a story line, partly denied permission to sing "Defying Gravity" in high school because he was a boy. "We feel like we're Elphaba and Glinda," Michele says. "Chris likes to be called Guylinda, though."
There's also the true story of the time a pre-fame Michele slept in the Spring Awakening theater overnight (a no-no), which helped inspire Murphy to come up with the Gershwin scene. "You have to be careful what you tell Ryan, or you'll end up doing it on the show," she later explains. "Don't tell him you don't like eggs because the next thing you know, you'll be getting hit with one." But for now, the between-takes banter ranges from Menzel's fall through a trapdoor during a 2005 performance to the previous night's high jinks. Michele: "I keep smelling margaritas." Colfer: "Is it coming through my pores?" Michele: "Mine."