Gather up, Gleeks, “Raise Your Glass” and get ready for “Fireworks!” The musical TV series about a high school show choir, now poised to move from hit to cult, continues its juggernaut from television, CDs and iTunes downloads, live performances, a Karaoke video game, board game, Slushie cups, an iPad app, and Cheerios Cheerleader Costumes (with baby bump) into theaters with a concert movie, 3D of course. It is expertly designed to make the fans happy with a can’t miss set-list of greatest hits, sung and danced as though the New Directions had been given another shot at Nationals. This is fabulously entertaining. There is nothing new here but it is a love letter for the fans, especially the fans who fast-forward through the talking parts of the show to get to the music.
On the Fox television series, now getting ready for its third season, New Directions is the name of Lima Ohio’s William McKinley High School show choir (the new version of the old glee clubs, but no less dorky). In the opening episodes, Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) persuades the principal to let him re-start the glee club, his favorite activity when he was a student there. Soon he as a combination of school misfits and outcasts including Lea Michele as mini-diva Rachel, Amber Riley as the almost-equally-diva-ish Mercedes, Chris Colfer as the only out gay student in the school, Kevin McHale as Artie, who is in a wheelchair, and Jenna Ushkowitz as the shy Tina. Through a series of plot complications, they were joined by some of the school’s most popular kids from the football team and Cheerios cheerleader squad, quarterback Finn (Cory Monteith) and his mohawked bad boy friend Puck (Mark Salling) and pregnant head cheerleader Quinn (Dianna Agron), ethereally air-headed Brittney (Heather Morris), and the tart-tongued tart Santana (Naya Rivera).
The storyline has included one teen pregnancy, one faked adult pregnancy, a reconnection with a birth mother, health crises, a wedding, and a very sad death, major guest stars (Gwyneth Paltrow, Neil Patrick Harris, Kristin Chenoweth, Eve, Carol Burnett, and Idina Menzel) and tributes (Madonna, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, the Rocky Horror Show). There have been shifting rivalries and volatile romances at the teen and adult level, a blazer-clad prep school show choir called the Warblers with a teenage dreamboat leader named Blaine (Darren Criss). The major battle is between Will and the coach of the Cheerios, Sue Sylvester (played by Christopher Guest favorite Jane Lynch). Second only to its electrifying musical numbers is “Glee’s” passionate commitment to inclusion. In addition to its gay and straight, differently-abled, and multi-racial characters and cast members, it has had two major characters with Down syndrome.
Producer Ryan Murphy brings the same commitment to diversity to the song line-up on the show, and like the series this concert includes up-to-the-minute pop numbers from Pink, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry, classic R&B (“Ain’t No Way,” “River Deep, Mountain High”) and classic rock (“Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Somebody to Love”), a little hip-hop, some Bowie, Michael Jackson, and Beatles, a Broadway show tune, a surprise guest appearance, and a remake of a legendary duet when Barbra Streisand guest-starred on Judy Garland’s variety show and they did a mash-up of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days are Here Again.” Performed by Michele (in a middy just like Streisand’s) and Coulter it is piercingly sweet.
The 3D camera is exceptionally well-suited to concert films, bringing us right on stage and giving us a sense of depth in the dance numbers (and such a realistic face-Slushie you’ll want to wipe it off). Cinematographer Glen MacPherson and dancer/choreographer-turned director Kevin Tancharoen use the camera as a part of the movement of the dances and the music of the songs, keeping it moving but respecting the integrity of the numbers. The now-standard back-stage glimpses work less well, partly because the cast does not seem to have a good sense of whether they are supposed to be themselves or stay in character and partly because they are far better performing choreographed numbers than ad libbing. Jane Lynch and some of the shots in the trailer do not appear in the movie — look for them in the DVD extras, which include some special features: Shazam prompts on the screen alerting vieweers to a Shazamable moment. Using their smartphones, fans can “tag” the movie when prompted to unlock exclusive content, including song lyrics in time with the music using the LyricPlay feature, exclusive behind the scenes footage not seen in theaters; exclusive photos of the cast; trivia and special offers.
It is nice to see the enthusiasm of the fans, some wearing huge foam L-for-loser fingers to embrace their Gleekiness. And there are three very affecting appearances by fans who reflect and benefit from the show’s emphasis on embracing difference. Be sure to stay all the way through the credits for an encore and an adorable fan video from a mini-Warbler.
But mostly this movie exists for the same reason that glee clubs exist — the music lifts the spirits and the dances thrill the soul.
Parents should know that this film has a crude word (“boobs”), references to coming out in middle school, some skimpy costumes and suggestive dances and lyrics
Family discussion: What is the most important thing the fans learned from “Glee?” Why is that message different from the ones we get from other television shows and movies? Which is the best song in the movie and why?
If you like this, try: the “Glee” television series and the original performances of the songs in this concert by stars like Lady Gaga, The Beatles, Katy Perry, and Judy Garland