First of all, this has nothing to do with the hit TV show Glee; there isn’t a glee club in this show, or even the mention of one. With Glee instead seems to be the spirit in which composer John Gregor wrote this show, which, at its best, is good corny fun. This musical follows five teenage boys from various points in the American Northeast, all sent to a boarding school in Maine, or a “Bad Kid School” as the boys themselves call it in the opening number.
With Glee doesn’t go very deep, relying more on types than fully drawn characters. There’s the anti-social weirdo, the rich kid, the poor kid, the show queen and our hero, the needy nerd. Gregor, who also wrote the book, adeptly wrings plenty of comedy and a soupcon of poignancy out of our expectations of those types. He sends the boys on a series of increasingly risky and over-the-top adventures, which have all the predictability and playfulness of your favorite amusement park ride.
Director Igor Goldin has framed Gregor’s funride with a very well-crafted, handsome production, featuring a cast of very game actors. A quite cute cast, too – all clearly at least five years older than the characters they play, so if you develop a stagedoor crush on one of them it isn’t that pervy. Gregor’s score is definitely the show’s strong point, very tuneful, with whiffs of Alan Menken and even Gilbert and Sullivan. Even if it does have a little too much cutesy, tinkly glockenspiel, which is quickly becoming my musical theatre pet peeve.
Sometimes, though, the corniness threatens to overpower the fun. I can’t help but wonder if Gregor shouldn’t have left the book to someone else, or at least collaborated with someone on it. He’s a better writer than you expect a composer to be, but that’s not high praise. The shallowness is fine for about three-quarters of the show, but I think it would actually be funnier and more touching if the characters were just a touch more dimensional.
For example, the actual sexuality of “show queen” Kip is hinted at but never fully addressed. He’s used more for (admittedly funny) musical theatre jokes than for actual plot development. The end result, though, is “spraying a little gay” on the show, without really dealing with it. This “spraying gay” is a growing trend I’ve noticed reading scripts in my other life as a director. I don’t find it offensive, just really annoying.
But it ain’t just a gay thing; the whole show is that “on-the-surface”, entertaining at first but wearing as the evening draws to a close. This is really a minor carp though – With Glee is a diverting musical, not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.
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