SHOW STOP­PERS

It’s been called High School Mu­si­cal with a wicked sense of hu­mour, and it’s one of the year’s most en­joy­able new shows. It’s Glee, and Guy Davis caught up with cast mem­ber Cory Mon­teith.

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Gen­er­ally made up of high school­ers with an en­thu­si­asm for song and dance, the glee club would ap­pear to be a par­tic­u­larly Amer­i­can phe­nom­e­non.

Sure, schools in other coun­tries around the world may stage high-en­ergy mu­si­cal per­for­mances at rock eisteddfods and the like. But an ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar or­gan­i­sa­tion de­voted solely to show tunes and pop­u­lar songs? Only in Amer­ica.

And if pop­u­lar cul­ture has taught us any­thing about high schools in the US, it’s that they tend to have a very strict so­cial hi­er­ar­chy, with the per­form­ing arts usu­ally some­where near the bot­tom.

That would ap­pear to be the case on Ten’s won­der­fully funny and en­ter­tain­ing new se­ries Glee, which fo­cuses on the tri­als and tribu­la­tions faced by teach­ers and stu­dents try­ing to bring a lit­tle mu­sic into their lives but fac­ing ob­sta­cles ev­ery step of the way.

Co-cre­ated by Nip/ Tuck’s Ryan Mur­phy, the show pits ide­al­is­tic teacher Will Schuester ( Matthew Mor­ri­son) and his mot­ley crew of young per­form­ers against a head­mas­ter with zero in­ter­est in mu­sic, a stu­dent body that re­gards the glee club as a bunch of dorks and, most im­pos­ingly, Sue Sylvester ( scene-steal­ing Jane Lynch), the cheer­lead­ing coach who doesn’t want any­one else steal­ing her spot­light.

When it’s not dis­play­ing a wicked sense of hu­mour that ri­vals the best of The Simp­sons or 30 Rock (“ That was the most off en­sive thing I’ve seen in 20 years of teach­ing, and that in­cludes an ele­men­tary school pro­duc­tion of Hair,” says Sue af­ter the club’s raunchy ren­di­tion of Salt N Pepa’s Push It), Glee breaks out a se­lec­tion of ter­rifi c tunes, all ex­cel­lently per­formed by the show’s ac­com­plished cast.

The likes of Mor­ri­son and Lea Michele, who plays gifted but over­bear­ing singer Rachel, have many Broad­way cred­its to their name, but the show’s young male lead, Cana­dian ac­tor Cory Mon­teith, never ac­tu­ally viewed him­self as a singer be­fore he joined the show.

Nor did he have any knowl­edge of glee clubs – it’s not some­thing Cana­dian high schools tend to have. “ So when I heard about Glee, I had no idea what it was al­lud­ing to, which is ac­tu­ally kind of ap­pro­pri­ate for the role,” Mon­teith laughed.

It is, in­deed. Mon­teith plays Finn, a pop­u­lar foot­ball player with a fi ne singing voice and ab­so­lutely no in­ten­tion of join­ing the glee club. It’s not un­til Will, des­per­ate to make the club cool among the stu­dents, tricks him ( well, black­mails him, ac­tu­ally) into tak­ing part that Finn dis­cov­ers his love of per­form­ing.

“ I’ve al­ways been a mu­si­cian – I’ve played the drums since I was six or seven years old, and played in bands when I was a teenager – but I never saw my­self as a song-and-dance per­former,” said Mon­teith. “ I never saw the pos­si­bil­ity of cross­ing over. I never saw my­self singing, just as Finn never saw the glee club as some­thing that might be for him. So it’s pretty good cast­ing in that re­spect!”

The ac­tor cred­its Mur­phy with es­tab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing Glee’s tone, which ex­pertly bal­ances heart and hu­mour as it moves seam­lessly from an up­lift­ing per­for­mance of a power bal­lad to a cut­ting one-liner by the po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect Sue.

“ It’s writ­ten so specifi cally that get­ting that sense of hu­mour just right is re­ally im­por­tant. I usu­ally ap­ply the term ‘ satire’ to this show but it’s sub­tle in how it ap­proaches th­ese high school stereotypes.

“ What makes you re­ally care about th­ese char­ac­ters, even though they’re broad parodies at times, is that there’s real heart to the show. It’s sweet but it’s not sac­cha­rine. There’s truth to it.”

Crash course: The Glee cast, from left, Chris Coff er, Kevin McHale, Am­ber Ri­ley, Lea Michele, Jenna Ushkowitz and Cory Mon­teith.

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