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"Glee" takes its act to the stage

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, June 12, 2011

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When most TV shows wrap a season, the actors leave the set to either vacation or pursue other opportunities such as film or theater.

The “Glee” kids, however, go on tour.

This summer marks the second trek for Glee Live! In Concert!, and like so much of what’s happening for the popular TV show, it’s only getting bigger.

Last year Glee Live! played 10 theater shows in four U.S. cities to more than 70,000 fans, snaring $5 million in ticket sales. This year, the tour will play 18 North American dates followed by nine in England and Ireland, and it’s been super-sized into an arena production that will eclipse those other figures.

And a film version of the show, “Glee Live! In 3D!” with both performance and backstage footage, opens Aug. 12.

“The show is bigger this time, which is fun,” says Harry Shum, Jr., who plays jock-turned-singer Mike Chang. “It’s one of the only TV shows that can really do something like this. Obviously it goes hand in hand with the music, but people also fall in love with the characters they see on television, and that translates onto the stage.”

The music is certainly the driving force for Glee Live! — and “Glee,” for that matter. The Fox series about a glee club (New Directions) at McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, has pushed Disney’s “High School Musical” concept further by making the arts cool not only for geeks (not to be confused with Gleeks, as the show’s fans are known) and jocks alike but also for paraplegics, homosexuals, adults and even hotties like recurring guest Gwyneth Paltrow. And beyond high ratings and awards — including two Golden Globes for Best Television Series, Musical or Comedy — it’s also turned into a vehicle for selling music.

“Glee” itself has moved 21 million digital singles and 9 million copies of its 11 album releases. “Glee: The Music, Volume 1” has sold nearly 1.2 million copies, while “Glee Christmas” has moved almost 930,000. In 2009, 25 “Glee”-performed singles hit the Billboard Hot 100 — the most of any artist since the Beatles had 31 in a single year during 1964.

And then there’s the “Glee” “bounce” experienced by acts whose songs are performed on the show. Rihanna, for instance, experienced a 189 percent sales increase for her single “Take a Bow” after the show covered it, but the greatest success of “Glee” that remains is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin;’ ” after appearing in three “Glee” episodes, the song — first released in 1981 — hit the Top 5 in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland and Australia, giving the song an unexpected second life.

“The coolest thing that happened from ‘Glee’ is how it brought the younger generation to be hip to the rest of our stuff — or even hip to Journey at all,” guitarist and co-founder Neal Schon says. “We have so many kids in our audience now, it’s amazing. It’s great to inspire a younger generation and see them get turned on by something that I feel is still musical.”

Not surprisingly, the show’s producers and writers are now inundated with pitches by artists hoping to have the show use their music. An embrace of Lady Gaga openly credits the show with helping push sales — more than a million copies in its first week — of her “Born This Way” album. “I love ‘Glee,’ ” she says. “I’m very excited they do such good things with my music.” Others, meanwhile, are hoping the show will eventually make its way to their repertoire.

“What’s amazing about ‘Glee’ is the way the (music) is produced,” says Huey Lewis. “They’re obviously lip-synching when they do it on TV, but the first thing they do is cut the song and make the record, and the recording they make is phenomenal. They do it right. (Michael Jackson’s) ‘Thriller’ is an amazing record ... but ‘Glee’ outdid it. It was (expletive) amazing!”

Not everybody is keen to have their music “Glee”-ified, however. Kings Of Leon, Foo Fighters, Bjork and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are among those who have declined, which earlier this year led to a virulent war of words with series created Ryan Murphy — although Murphy subsequently backed off his position. “I’ve never felt that if you don’t give ‘Glee’ your music, there’s something diabolical about you,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “To the contrary: I support artists and what they choose to do.

“I think Kings of Leon are cool ... The Foo Fighters are brilliant. We’d love to do one of their songs, if they were ever interested. But if it’s not their thing, then OK. I personally wish them luck and will still listen to their music.”

Cast member Shum says the dust-up had little effect on the “Glee” set. “It was between Ryan and the other artists,” he notes. “I think it came out of a place where everyone acted quickly because everyone loves their work and is protective over their work. Things were said hastily, and I think everything’s OK now. It doesn’t really affect us.”

Mostly, Shum adds, he and the other cast members are still getting over their surprise at the success of “Glee.”

“When I first started, I didn’t know what it was about,” says Shum, who is part of the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD) that opens the shows on the Glee Live! runs. “I didn’t know what the show was, didn’t know the impact we would have. I don’t think anybody expected that. Nobody can predict this type of success with a show and everything that comes with it, the tour and everything. We just kind of take it day by day.”

Matthew Morrison, who plays teacher and New Directions sponsor Will Schuester — but isn’t part of the Glee Live! tour — adds that, “I read the script, and it was great but I was like, ‘An hour-long comedy on Fox about kids singing and dancing in high school? Eh ... not really gonna happen.’

“I just think there’s really a great message every week. Our story’s about (the characters) being underdogs, and we’ve made the underdog kind of cool. That’s a great thing to do, and I think it’s translated in a lot of the world.”

The “Glee” cast is now waiting to see if the show will provide an effective launch pad for their own music. The show added a selection of original songs during its second season (“Loser Like Me” hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100), while Morrison is testing the waters with his self-titled debut album, which debuted at No. 24 on the Billboard 200 chart in May. Naya Rivera (Santana Lopez) has signed a deal with Columbia Records — which also puts out the “Glee” albums — while Lea Michele (Rachel Berry) and Cory Monteith (Finn Hudson) are rumored to be headed for music careers of their own.

“Doing this album is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and ‘Glee’ has set me up to be in a position where I can make a great album and do it on my own terms,” says Morrison, who duets with Elton John, Sting and Paltrow on his debut. But he adds that “there’s a duality of being me and Mr. Schuester. Everyone has this preconceived notion of who I am ... but I’m very eclectic. I love a lot of different styles, and it’s going to take a minute for people to understand that and maybe separate me from (his character).”

The “Glee”sters will be back in character for a third season soon enough — although they’re awaiting word on exactly when that will be. “To be honest with you, I really have no clue,” Shum says. “We’re doing this tour now, and we end in July and then we’re gonna take a little time off, go into a cave and enjoy our little personal time until they give us the sign to come back.”

And what might happen during the new season? “We’ve been asking every single day!” Shum says with a laugh. “There’s absolutely nothing they’re telling us. They keep it close to the vest.”

Glee Live! In Concert! takes place at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 13, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $52.50 and $92.50. Call 248-277-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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