“Mom, what’s a celibacy club?”


Thus began our mother-daughter relationship with the show “Glee.”

In case you’ve been in a medically induced coma for the past nine months, “Glee” is the Fox network’s improbable new hit series.  It somehow combines teen angst, diversity, show tunes, and political incorrectness of massive proportion into one of the most refreshing hours of television you’re likely to find this year or any other.  Add to that its ensemble cast of talented young people, smart writers, great music, and a soulful lesson learned at the end of every episode, and you can begin to understand why so many people are self-proclaimed “gleeks.”

As the bewildered mother of a tween, I am in debt to the creative powers behind “Glee” for multiple reasons.  My daughter and I see eye-to-eye less and less as she heads into middle school.  Conversations generally consist of over-eager questions from me and monosyllabic answers from her.

But we both love “Glee.”

Granted, she prefers the outrageous Lady Ga Ga numbers, while I was thrilled with a wistful duet of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.”  But most of the time, we sit together and watch (usually via DVR – the show actually airs past her bedtime), compare notes on who’s hot, who’s not; whose parents get it, whose parents don’t; why the kids do what they do; and what we would do in their situation.

And yes, we talk about sex.  A lot.  The celibacy club question was in reference to a main character, the McKinley High queen bee Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron).  Quinn is the head cheerleader of the champion pep squad, the Cheerios.  She’s dating the captain of the football team.  She’s blond-haired, blue-eyed and pretty as a picture. She’s president of the Celibacy Club. And she’s pregnant.

But the plot thickens.  Finn, her handsome boyfriend, is not the father. That honor belongs to Puck, the glee club’s mohawked bad-boy rock n’ roller.  In fact, Quinn and Finn never even had sex – he thinks the baby was conceived while they were making out in a hot tub.  Meanwhile, Quinn tells Puck that the only reason she lost her virginity to him was because “You got me drunk on wine coolers and I was feeling fat that day.”

Granted, this is tricky territory when you’re introducing the subject of the birds and the bees to your 12-year old.  But let me assure you that she is much more engaged than she was when I presented her with the book her guidance counselors had recommended. Let’s Talk About S-E-X! just didn’t hold her attention the way “Glee” does.

Watching a team of misfit teens find their voice – literally – is not only entertaining, it’s redemptive. My daughter is currently navigating the uncharted waters of middle school. She’s acutely aware of the social hierarchy that’s dramatized so colorfully in the show. And though it’s been 30 years since I graduated from high school, I can still remember just how trying it can be trying to fit in.

So when I learned that the “Glee” cast was headed to Radio City Music Hall for a live show, I was online the very second that the seats went on sale at TicketMaster.com. And – gasp! – I was denied.  The shows (several performances in four separate cities) sold out in less than 10 seconds.  After a few days, I decided to go ahead and pay about double the face value for four balcony tickets on the secondary market.  I maintained at least some of my sanity and steered clear of the front row orchestra seats for $1,050.  As a good friend observed, “These are the ‘Glee’ kids, not the Rolling Stones.”

All of this led to my being one of about 6,000 gleeks at a recent Sunday matinee of “Glee Live!” The ticket holders’ line stretched around Avenue of the Americas and more than halfway up 51st Street. When a couple of cast members made a brief appearance at the stage door, the shrieking fans were surely heard all over Manhattan.

Having rationalized my ticket purchase by looking at the whole thing as an important, once-in-a-lifetime, shared mother-daughter experience, I was eager to gauge the crowd’s demographics. There were certainly more teens and tweens in attendance than women my age.  But I saw plenty of other moms and more than a few grandparents. The multigenerational appeal of the “Glee” franchise obviously isn’t unique to my household. For our part, we brought along my 40-something sister and my 70-something mother.

The vast auditorium filled quickly, and the performance started just a few minutes past the appointed time. The opening act comprised several pieces by LXD, The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, a troupe of gravity-defying movement artists who combined break-dancing, gymnastics, pedestrian movement and a postmodern pop-and-lock version of the robot. They were … well … extraordinary. When Harry Shum Jr. (who plays Mike Chang on “Glee”) performed a Red Shoes-inspired segment, the crowd went wild.

After a surprisingly long intermission, the main event began. There were enormous video screens behind the set and on either side of the stage, which later featured close-ups of the “Glee” kids as they sang. At the start, we were confronted with the show choir’s arch nemesis, “Glee” villain extraordinaire, Sue Sylvester (indie character actor Jane Lynch), who welcomed us in character: “Hello suckers.” What followed was a rapid-fire 75-minutes of the TV series’ most popular numbers, from covers of classic rock to show tunes to contemporary hits. It was hard to say who had more energy, the kids onstage or the kids in the audience.

Without benefit of studio tracks and multiple takes, it became clear which of the talented cast members had experience performing live and which did not. Lea Michelle, who plays the diminutive diva Rachel Berry, has appeared on Broadway since she was 8 years old. Her polished vocals never wavered in solo after solo. Similarly, musical theater pro Jenna Ushkowitz, who plays “Asian” Tina Cohen-Chang, was relaxed and solid when she took the lead in Cindy Lauper’s “True Colors.” The group’s other female lead, Amber Riley, who plays powerhouse Mercedes Jones, struggled a bit but still managed to wow the crowd with her rendition of Christine Aguillera’s “I Am Beautiful.”

The boys, including the immensely likable quarterback/male lead Corey Monteith,  Mark Salling as Puck, and wheelchair-bound Artie Abrams (played by able-bodied actor Kevin McHale), didn’t fare as well vocally, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind.

In addition to all the singing (23 numbers in total, including 3 encores), there were high-power dance numbers, video clips, and cute bits between some of the actors – especially Heather Morris as the dazed Cheerio Brittany, in love with the group’s “Mayor of Gaytown” Kurt, played by Chris Colfer.

Highlights of the evening included a duet of Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” by Michelle and Colfer, whose crystal-clear falsetto gave Michelle’s extraordinary vocal instrument a run for its money, and a flamboyantly costumed homage to Lady Ga Ga’s “Bad Romance.” The group’s rival “Vocal Adrenaline” – or as Sue Sylvester describes them, “The evil empire of show choirs” – was on hand for two numbers, “Rehab” and “Mercy.” Guest star Jonathan Groff, who plays glee club double agent Jessie St. James, came on for a surprise duet with “best friend” Michelle.

So, having paid too much and traveled too far for any other concert event based on a TV show, would I give “Glee Live!” a thumbs-up?  It was uneven.  It was overproduced.  It was loud – my God, was it loud!  So, why did my family – and every other person I saw there – leave with enormous grins on our faces?

The answer can be found in the show’s first episode. The former coach of the glee club is memorialized on a plaque that reads, “By its very definition, glee is about opening yourself up to joy.”

And we did.

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