I have to confess, I’ve never seen Glee and up until a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t even really sure what it was. I mean I’d heard the name but didn’t really know the format or who was in it. Perhaps as a 40’ something I’m not really expected to know much about it but heading off to tonight’s event, I was certainly heading into the unknown.
Darren Criss and Lea Michele are 2 of the former shows stars and central characters, so we set about making a very wet and windy journey across the Pennines to Manchester’s O2 Apollo theatre to see them in action and to see for myself what I had been missing out on!
Firstly a word for our hosts, I enjoy visiting new venues although you never quite know what to expect. Tonight’s was simply a wonderful old building which opened in 1938 as a cinema and variety hall and has been a specialist concert venue since it stopped showing films in the 1970s. As we entered I gazed around at the splendor of it, the openness and general feel of it gave me good vibes about the evening and little did I know at that point how important the building would be to tonight’s events. More on that later though.
The staging was simple but effective, back drops and mood lighting accompanying a set of what appeared to be shabby chic lamps that were switched on and off according to the mood and pace of the songs. It worked well. There was also a 4 piece backing band consisting of lead and bass guitar, piano, and a drummer. The drummer was surrounded by a Plexiglas screen which seemed odd at first and made me wonder if somehow he had upset previous audiences and this was for his own protection! It turned out though that this was just a clever way of muffling the sound making sure they could control the volume so it didn’t drown out any of the lyrics to follow.
The show started as a duet with both artists taking to the stage to a crescendo of noise that was frankly deafening. Clearly I was in a very small minority in not knowing what to expect by this evening’s show!
This format followed for the first 3 numbers and was, as to be expected very musical theatre in genre. Broadway Baby, from Follies and Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, were delivered, as you would be expected with impeccable precision and were of course pitch-perfect (sorry wrong show)
What impressed me straight from the off though was not the quality of the voices, this can be taken as a given! No, it was more the quality of the performers that immediately grabbed my attention! The way they both engaged with the audience throughout the show with humor, humility, and genuine affection was really infectious and you coulddon’t help but respond in kind. “who here knows Glee?” asked Criss to another deafening crescendo of noise; “who doesn’t know Glee?” was met with a quieter response but still audible, it was left to the “who has been dragged along tonight against their will and doesn’t have a F***ing clue what’s going on?” question to give an opportunity for dads, uncles, and the odd reviewer to join in a laugh and immediately feel part of proceedings. I could say here that they had me at hello, but my T.V based links are in danger of getting cheesy now so I’ll leave that one out!
At this point, the show went into the solo sections with Lea Michele taking the first slot and giving us 45 minutes of genuinely enthralling entertainment. Her Broadway roots sparkling through old favourites such as ‘Over the Rainbow’, a festive feel was added with a beautiful rendition of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Christmas’ and she also showed she can Rock it too with covers of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’ and Pinks ‘Glitter in the Air’.
Darren Criss took over center stage and followed suit, hitting us with the big show number ‘I Dreamed a Dream, thrilling the Glee faithful with songs from the show and showing us his own eclectic tastes with ‘Cough Syrup’ (no most of us hadn’t heard of it either but have a listen) and then introducing his own section of the show which was a montage of songs sung by bands from the host city.
Bearing in mind we were in Manchester this could have taken all night but a carefully selected selection of music from Hermans Hermits, David Gray and Take That to name but a few were culminated in of course an Oasis tribute. Although perhaps not the song you would have expected. ‘She’s Electric’ brought that particular section of the show to a close and confirmed that whoever you were, whatever age or whatever your tastes tonight would offer something for you.
The whole night reminded me of the mixed tapes we used to make when we’re younger and such things actually existed. It didn’t matter what genre, what age, whether it was considered cool or not if you liked it then it made the tape. This is exactly what tonight gave us. Show stopping Broadway numbers, pop, rock, easy listening, the music you wanted to dance to, and music that had the potential to set off a whole range of emotions.
From The Who to Judy Garland: From Eva Cassidy to The Human League there was even a great selection of Darren Criss’s own works which showcased what a terrific singer-songwriter he is.
It really was a terrific night’s entertainment delivered brilliantly with every note, link, story and in particular Glee reference absolutely lapped up by this passionate crowd.
It was left for something I have never witnessed before to bring the night to a close. Arriving back on stage to raucous noise from the audience, it took a few moments for Criss and Michele to calm them down before guitars were unplugged, the microphone was switched off and it was left to the acoustics of this wonderful old theatre to take center stage. Explaining how we all feel, share, and live the music they produced a simply stunning close to the show. The song was Adele’s ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ but as it was delivered without any electronic help at all, not even a microphone. You could have heard a pin drop with not a breath of sound from the audience as the voices of Criss and Michele wafted across and filled the auditorium and left us all speechless.
I have never seen anything quite like that before and it was a magical and stunning way to close what was a magical and stunning night.