The Glee Effect

4.17.2011

By Jeremy Kinser

Each week, millions of young viewers tune in to Fox to watch American Idol contestants belt out Broadway standards and the cast of Glee perform ebullient renditions of old-school numbers from Cabaret, Funny Girl, and Gypsy. So it seems logical that they'd also pack theaters to check out a Gen Y star like Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe singing and dancing live.

'Idol and Glee have had a monumental impact in helping a show like ours,' says Craig Zadan, coproducer of the new revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which boasts Radcliffe in his first musical. 'They've helped build a younger audience for theater and encourage a new generation to pursue a career in musical theater.'

But Glee's influence extends beyond American living rooms and midtown marquees. One of TV's highest-rated scripted programs, the sharply written series about show choir underdogs competing for the national title has become a worldwide triumph (it's broadcast almost globally, from Croatia to Fiji). The show has launched award-winning careers for out actors Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch, made gay creator Ryan Murphy a household name, and lured Britney and Gwyneth to make rare small-screen cameos. With five volumes of soundtracks, its realm also includes chart dominance: In February the cast broke Elvis Presley's Billboard Hot 100 record for the most charted songs for an act (more than 100 and counting). Bringing it full circle, a Glee stage adaptation is reportedly in the works.

No doubt the series will inspire some budding theaterphiles to walk the Great White Way for the first time. 'Hopefully they will come away from the experience hooked on musical theater and come back to see other shows as well,' Zadan says.

Veteran composer Marc Shaiman agrees but is pragmatic. 'I've been troubled when 'Broadway' has been used as a pejorative on American Idol,' he says. 'It also seems disingenuous since the biggest successes Idol alumni have enjoyed -- outside the lucky few whose recording careers have taken off -- is on Broadway.' Still, Shaiman is pleased that Fox has tapped into a new musical theater zeitgeist. 'I rejoice over the fact that Glee has made people singing about their feelings acceptable to the masses,' he says. 'Not to mention boys kissing.'

To read our cover story on Glee's Darren Criss, click here.

Tags: Television
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