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.
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.