'Glee! Live! In Concert!' Review: Show Makes No Apologies for Camp Factor

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Like any entertainment franchise-turned-road show, Glee wants your money, be it the $50 concert ticket or the many merch items (ranging from a $15 L-shaped foam hand — signifying “Loser” — to a $200 leather McKinley High jacket) on sale at each tour stop. But while it counts on your cash, it demands your devotion. Staples Center in Los Angeles proved that on a recent Saturday night as the 20,000-capacity venue looked more like a mega-church than a concert arena. Its worshipers: Gleeks.

Of course, the producers of the show are all about creating the cult of Glee and harnessing its power for good, not evil. Knowing that the audience would likely be split among tweens, their parents and, well, everyone in between, it’s also why some major cities on the 21-date tour feature a matinee — though the run-of-show is pretty much the same.

So what do you get for your hard-earned “shekels,” as coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) mocks from a video screen at the start of the night while her cheerleading minions hand out McKinley-stamped “barf bags” on the floor below (because the show will suck, natch)? Eighty minutes, or 25 songs’ worth, of pure entertainment that makes no apologies for its camp quotient. Fourteen of Glee’s castmembers (teachers and guidance counselors are absent) prance onstage with exactly the sort of zeal you’d expect out of a pack of savvy, sexed-up overachievers — albeit talented ones — in their 20s.

Kicking off with Glee’s Grammy-nominated Journey cover “Don’t Stop Believin’,” stars Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer and 11 others are revealed to the crowd one by one. Each has his or her own vocal following, and the spotlight is mostly a democracy, giving every castmember a moment. The next song, Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” features Amber Riley and Jenna Ushkowitz on lead, while Kevin McHale takes on Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” and Colfer delivers a slow spin on the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Michele, the show’s undisputed star, reprises her number from last year’s smaller tour, “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” and joins Monteith later for “Loser Like Me,” but just as memorable is Naya Rivera’s take on Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” Less so? Heather Morris’ lip-synched turn on Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U,” meant to showcase her dance moves.

Of course, the secret to Glee’s success is due as much to the group numbers. Featuring additional dancers who more than compensate for certain Glee club members’ lack of moves, pyrotechnics (actual fireworks for Katy Perry’s “Firework,” jets of smoke and fire for My Chemical Romance’s “Sing”) and a gospel choir, if it’s Glee grandiosity they were going for, the show’s producers most certainly accomplished it.

Yet they managed to make it intimate, too, by positioning a second stage in the middle of the arena floor. From there, Michele and Colfer duetted the standout “Happy Days Are Here Again,” Mark Salling kicked off “Fat Bottom Girls,” and rival troupe the Warblers, led by Darren Criss, offered three of their most popular numbers — “Teenage Dream,” “Raise Your Glass” and “Silly Love Songs” — while show creator Ryan Murphy cheered from feet away. It all culminated in another fan favorite from the series, “Somebody to Love,” which added a final exclamation mark to the stage show.

This summer’s Glee! Live! is more than twice the size of its sold-out 2010 outing, when the production wowed industry observers by performing for a total of 70,000 people. Now, with five shows at London’s O2 Arena on deck, it comes down to something Glee is all too familiar with: raising the branding bar to the tune of untold millions. Happy counting.

Venue Staples Center, Los Angeles (Saturday, May 28)

 

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