‘Glee’ exists beyond ‘2009’

Kurt Hummel almost didn’t exist. He wasn’t in “Glee’s” original scripts.

After actor Chris Colfer auditioned for the role of Artie, “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy was inspired to create Hummel.

I was reminded of this when I watched “2009,” the first half of “Glee’s” two-part finale. The story airs like an alternate pilot. This time, Hummel (rather than Lea Michele’s Rachel Berry) is the helm of Murphy’s band of high school misfits.

“I feel like I could die tomorrow and I don’t think anyone would really care. I’m not sure if anyone would really notice,” Hummel says as he picks up an informational pamphlet from the guidance counselor’s office (this one’s called “Ending it All: Pros and Cons”).

It would be a shame if Kurt Hummel didn’t existed because his story’s consistently been one of the most powerful and easily identifiable ones of “Glee.”

More than one out of 20 Americans older than 12 are depressed. And according to the World Health Organization, between 10 to 20 million people attempt suicide every year. It’s also the leading cause of death for people between ages 15 and 34.

Dr. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz estimates that about 5 percent of Americans are gay and that many are still in the closet. “Glee” brought some of these social issues to the primetime screens of American households every week, and might have even inspired some teenagers to come out to their parents — or at least realize that they’re not alone.

“2009” reminds us of why we fell in love with “Glee” when it first aired six years ago. It’s stars are invisible and angry and jealous and vulnerable teenagers filled with dreams and ambitions. While we may not have been a Kurt Hummel, we may have been a Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), a Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz), an Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), a Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron), a Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), or an entirely different type of Gleek.

Week after week, they’ve inspired us to keep dreaming — from the walls of McKinley High School to the streets of Broadway.

Sure after six seasons, the plot’s been “watered-down melodramatic slush” recently, but at times, it dealt with real-life issues (from coming out of the closet and peer pressure to teen pregnancies, eating disorders and school shootings). Meanwhile, it’s reminded us that even if we’re different, we’re not alone.

“Glee” was created in 2009 by Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy; and produced by Ryan Murphy Television. “2009” aired on March 20, 2015. 

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Conducting ‘Whiplash’

When you think of the jazz greats, there’s Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker and Andrew Neiman. You probably haven’t heard of the latter, though, unless you’ve seen Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-nominated film, “Whiplash.”

In the 107-minute drama, Miles Teller stars at 19-year-old Neiman, an aspiring jazz drummer attending the prestigious and cutthroat Shaffer Music Conservatory in New York City. He could be one of the kids from “Fame.” His dream is to become a household jazz icon and to do so means earning the respect of Shaffer’s studio jazz band conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).

Fletcher is not the encouraging chorus instructor in Ryan Murphy’s TV comedy “Glee”; instead, Fletcher resembles the abrasive cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester or a male version of Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada.” He’s the type of virtuoso that you both love and despise; you secretly hate him while constantly seeking his approval. Meanwhile, Fletcher spews cruel, racial, homophobic and religious slurs at you. He sounds like a football coach rather than a conductor, punctuating his speeches with curse words. But he can also be deceptively sweet.

In one scene Fletcher is reassuring Neiman: “The key is to relax,” Fletcher says. “Don’t worry about the other guys. You’re here for a reason. Have fun.” In the next scene, Fletcher humiliates Neiman in front of the band, hurling a chair at his head while enacting his favorite didactic story:

“Imagine if [Jo] Jones had just said: ‘Well, that’s okay, Charlie. That was all right. Good job,'” Fletcher says. “And then Charlie thinks to himself, ‘Well, shit, I did do a pretty good job.’ End of story. No Bird. That, to me, is an absolute tragedy.”

Simmons is absolutely captivating as Fletcher, abruptly changing his voice and moods like a finely tuned fiddle. One minute, he’s calm, melodic and inviting. The next, he’s loud, harsh and grating, instilling fear among his students. He dismissed his fourth chair trombone player, Metz (C.J. Vana), because the musician couldn’t answer if he was playing out of tune. He wasn’t, Fletcher later discloses, but that’s even worse.

Simmons and Teller jerk you back and forth from sympathy to disgust. Teller’s Neiman is driven, passionate and ambitious — literally drenching his drum sets with blood and sweat. But he can also be self-centered and high strung. At times, Neiman reminds you of Jesse Eisenberg’s antisocial portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s 2010 drama “The Social Network.”

When he prematurely breaks up with his love interest, Nicole (Melissa Benoist), you expect her to slap him. His reasoning seems distorted and he drowns a guarantee for normalcy with a slim chance for greatness. Drumming becomes his obsession; Fletcher, his role model. But this relationship is an abusive one.

The antagonistic relationship between a mentor and his young protégé isn’t new. We’ve seen this in dozens of films from “The Devil Wears Prada” to “Varsity Blues.” But director and screenwriter Chazelle (both literally and figuratively) drums up new momentum with the soundtrack (composed by Justin Hurwitz). Trumpets provide the sexy backdrop to young love while the breakneck double-time drumming provides the pulse in an adrenaline-driven frenzy. It’s uneven and all over the place —  just enough to give you whiplash.

Of course, the title of the film works on multiple levels. It’s the song that Neiman is learning to play when he joins Fletcher’s band. It’s also the visceral feeling you get when you watch some of the performances. (Chazelle’s even incorporates a car crash into his script, putting triple entendres to use.) It’s almost packaged too neatly, undermining the film’s playful and improvisational subject matter. That’s doesn’t mean this concert isn’t worth listening to.

Although “Whiplash” is only Chazelle’s second feature-length film, he’s a master conductor — cuing exacting cuts and powerful performances. It’s predictable and the story ends much like it begins — with a coda to Fletcher and Neiman’s perfect duet.

“Whiplash” was written and directed by Damien Chazelle. J.K. Simmons won a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actor for his role. “Whiplash” was nominated in the 87th Academy Awards for Best Film, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing.  

‘American Horror Story Coven’: addictively bewitching

The third season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s sensational television drama “American Horror Story” returns with a new haunted house, but familiar faces and friends.

There’s the evil narcissistic queen from Snow White (Jessica Lange), searching for eternal youth and beauty. There’s Romeo (Evan Peters) and Juliet (Taissa Farmiga) — only these star-crossed lovers meet at a frat party where they get only a few hours rather than three days.

Like season one and two of “American Horror Story,” Murphy and Falchuk take familiar stories and weave them into a coherent narrative. This one follows Zoe Benson (Farmiga), who finds out she’s a witch when she accidentally kills her boyfriend, Charlie (Kurt Krause). Zoe’s sent to Miss Robichaux’s Academy in New Orleans, a Hogwarts for young witches. At its helm is Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulsen), the daughter of coven leader Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange). Her young charges includes D-List movie star Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer) and human voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe).

New Orleans is the perfect tapestry, full of creole culture and history. Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is part of that history, a wealthy bigoted slaveowner who allegedly tortured 150 slaves. Cursed by Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), Madame LaLaurie’s immortal and buried alive in an unmarked grave. That is, until Fiona digs up LaLaurie, reviving a feudal war between her coven and Marie’s witches.

Once again, Murphy and Falchuk brew a powerfully addictive potion. They fill their dialogue with witch references (and there are a lot of them) from “Sabrina: the Teenaged Witch” to “Charmed.” They draw from a vast amount of sources from historical ones like the Salem witch hunts and Hurricane Katrina to fictional ones like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Natalie Babbitt’s “Tuck Everlasting” and Josh Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

This makes “American Horror Story Coven” read like a YA novel — punctuated with the tried-and-true formula of love triangles, betrayal and cliffhangers — while dosed in mature themes and images (a lot of sex and blood). When you wake up from Murphy and Falchuk’s spell, you’ll wonder how you binged-watched all 13 episodes in one sitting. If anything “AHS: Coven” will make you lose track of time.

Staring into the abyss of ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’

It’s “The Blair Witch Project” meets “The X-Files” meets “The Poltergeist” meets “A Clockwork Orange” meets “One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest” meets “The Exorcist” meets “I Know What You Did Last Summer” meets “Saw,” with lots of blood and fortification in between. And that’s just the first couple episodes of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s second season of their macabre freak show, “American Horror Story: Asylum.”

This time, we’re guests at Briarcliff Manor, a mid-1960s Massachusetts insane asylum.

Like season one, “Asylum” is told through flashbacks and multiple interconnected narratives. Present-day couple Leo (Adam Levine) and Teresa Morrison (Jenna Dewan Tatum) are celebrating their honeymoon with a self-guided tour of every haunted happening across America. Their stumble through the Manor’s steps awaken monsters from its past.

Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), a anti-semitic doctor who believes in electroshock therapy; Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto), a removed state psychiatrist assigned to diagnose Bloody Face’s mental condition; and Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), a weak-willed nun who enjoys little sins, used to roam the sanitarium’s halls.

But the warden of this prison was Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), who plays Briarcliff Manor’s Nurse Ratched.

When Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is admitted into Briarcliff as the infamous local serial killer, “Bloody Face” during the mid-1960s, investigative reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who fancies herself after Nellie Bly, sneaks into the mental ward to profile him; what she uncovers there is more horrific than her nightmares, especially when she finds herself admitted as a homosexual.

Murphy and Falchuk’s amalgamation of slasher flicks is a bloody mess. At times, it feels like they’re squeezing as many horror film allusions into an episode as possible. (“Nightmare Before Christmas” is even referenced more than halfway through the season in the “Unholy Night” episode). At other times, it’s like we’ve stepped into an episode of “Glee” (during a hallucination, Lange’s character sings “The Name Game” as the cast performs a choreographed musical number).

That doesn’t mean “American Horror Story” isn’t addictive. In fact, we can’t look away from this sensational and deliciously sacrilegious train wreck.

Perhaps that’s the problem.

As Sister Jude warns in the show’s finale, paraphrasing Nietzsche: “If you look into the face of Evil, Evil is going to look right back at you.”

Moving into an ‘American Horror Story’: season one review

Ryan Murphy is known for creating freaks. His melodramatic hit television dramedy “Glee” stars the teenaged rejects of the McKinley High School show choir.

His newest Frankensteins are even better. I’m talking about the revolving cast of characters in FX’s “American Horror Story” (2011).

At the center of its 12-episode pilot season is troubled couple Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton). After Ben cheated on his wife with his student Hayden McClaine (played by the wonderful Kate Mara of “House of Cards”), Ben, Vivien and their teenaged daughter Violet (played by Vera Farmiga’s younger sister Taissa) decide to literally “move on” from the affair, taking up residence in a beautiful 1920s Victorian-style Los Angeles mansion.

Of course, the Harmons aren’t the only ones residing in what’s dubbed the “Murder House.” Its tenants include the house’s founders and former residents including surgeon Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) and his wife Nora (Lily Rabe); housekeeper Moira O’Hara (played by Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge); gay couple Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears); and next-door neighbors Constance (Jessica Lange) and Addie Langdon (Jamie Brewer).

“American Horror Story” is a culmination of spooky ghost stories from campfire tales like Bloody Mary to scary film creations including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.”

Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk also draw inspiration from real-life murders including the unsolved Black Dahlia case and the Columbine massacre.

Evan Peters, who plays a deeply disturbed teenager who falls in love with Violet, channels a young Christian Slater from Michael Lehmann’s dark comedy “Heathers.” Constance’s a southern Sue Sylvester — biting, racist and cruel, but also a little sad.

“One of the many comforts of having children is knowing one’s youth has not fled but merely been passed down to a new generation,” she says. “They say when a parent dies, a child feels his own mortality. But when a child dies, it’s immortality that a parent loses.”

“American Horror Story” is chilling and creepy, feeding off our insecurities. But that’s what makes it so addictive. We want to see who or what’s behind that door or under that floorboard if only to ease our pounding hearts and racing minds.

While “American Horror Story” is an exaggerated and perverse reflection of humanity, we see bits of ourselves in murderers and psychopaths. We begin to understand their wants and motives. And how easy it is to lose one’s mind. That’s perhaps the scariest thing of all.

But like stumbling through a “haunted” attraction on Halloween, “American Horror Story” is scary good fun. Because in the back of our minds, we know these actors can’t reach beyond your tiny television or laptop screens. They can’t grab you and take you into their world. This mirror into death only makes you feel alive.

‘Glee’ Season 5 Episode 1: “Love, Love, Love’s” so yesterday

Who doesn’t love to watch an epic over-the-top musical proposal?

Certainly not Jodi Campbell — whose main man Dan popped the question after his flash mob serenaded her with classics like Rock of Age’s “Dancing on a Prayer,” Mama Mia’s “Dancing Queen” and Rent’s “Seasons of Love.”

And certainly not Amy — whose hubby Isaac planned a lip dub proposal, inviting 60-plus friends to lip-sync to Bruno Mars’ “Marry You.” Isaac’s proposal garnered more than 23 million YouTube views.

So if it worked for these couples, it would certainly work for Glee — Fox’s musical high school glee club dramedy known for its ridiculous and sometimes poignant musical numbers — right?

Glee’s fifth season kicks off with the inevitable proposal — the one Blaine (Darren Criss) had been planning to his on-again-off-again boyfriend Kurt (Chris Colfer) since the end of last season.

But another wedding isn’t going to revive a funeral.

Willy Shakespeare taught us that with his tragedy “Hamlet.”

“The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables,” said the wise Prince of Denmark.

And the fun-infused colors and mirth leaves a bad aftertaste — especially when the ghost of quarterback-turned-glee-coach Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) roams the halls of McKinley High School.

Although Finn’s name is never mentioned in the Beatles-inspired season premiere “Love, Love, Love,” he’s there when Finn’s ex Rachel Berry (and Monteith’s real life girlfriend Lea Michele) sings her rendition of “Yesterday.”

“Why he/had to go/I don’t know/ he wouldn’t say,” Michele sang — a sentiment shared by fans of Monteith, who suddenly died this summer from a drug overdose.

After all, it seems like yesterday when Monteith sang opposite Michele in those signature show-stopping Glee regional numbers like “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

While we, Gleeks, may still believe in yesterday, the first of a two-part Beatles tribute is hard to swallow — starting from wheelchair-ridden glee star Artie (Kevin McHale) and head Cheerio Kitty’s (Becca Tobin) secret, sudden and improbable romance.

For one: their carnival rendezvous (where they sing “Drive My Car” in bumper cars and “You Got To Hide Your Love Away” while wandering the halls of McKinley) isn’t so secret — not when seven of McKinley High’s Glee Club serve as musical double dates and backup singers/dancers.

Two: Kitty, Sue Sylvester’s (Jane Lynch) cheerleading protégé who fed laxatives to fellow glee star Marley (Melissa Benoist) last season, is nauseatingly sweet without a discernible ulterior motive — which, if you’ve been following last season of Glee at all, is extremely out of character.

“Even though I know he’s getting ready to graduate and we’re just as doomed as every other sad, backward relationship that’s ever started in this Jesus- and love-forsaken choir room, I do like you, Artie,” Kitty says during a glee rehearsal.

Glee’s at its best when it’s a self-aware — like when school counselor Emma (Jayma Mays) says, “You kids have dated so incestuously that I can’t remember who can tolerate who anymore.”

Or when self-imposed Grinch Sue says, “At the risk of stepping out of character, I’ve brought donuts to calm everyone’s frayed nerves.”

The satire is there when Kurt tells Blaine that he’s “not sitting down and listening to you sing to me anymore.” Klaine fans will remember that their budding romance began when Blaine sang Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” (This time, Blaine sings “All You Need Is Love.”)

 

But as cute and sincere as Blaine’s proposal is, Glee’s become little more than washed-out melodramatic slush, filled with forced, far-fetched plotlines and as many musical numbers as possible.

And as much as we don’t want to stop believin’ (because the show does make us feel sometimes and we love Klaine), you have to wonder if Glee will ever stop being lukewarm slush or when the writers will recover from brain freeze. Meanwhile, we long for yesterday.

“Glee” was created in 2009 by Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy; and produced by Ryan Murphy Television. “Glee” airs on FOX at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. central Thursdays. Season 5, episode 3 “The Quarterback,” which airs on Oct. 10, will be dedicated to Cory Monteith’s character Finn Hudson.

The Great ‘Charlie Bartlett’

Who ever said you can’t buy friends? Well, as seventeen-year-old Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) finds out, popularity isn’t as “priceless” as the MasterCard commercials would have you believe.

The film, “Charlie Bartlett,” follows a wealthy, enterprising teenager and his quest to be well-liked. When no fancy prep school would take him anymore (the last one expelled him for creating and distributing fake I.D.’s), Charlie is sent to public school — where he gets beat up. That is, until he discovers that obtaining and dealing prescription medications (from Ritalin to Xanax) — and giving advice to other misunderstood, teenagers — can become quite a lucrative business.

For playing a posh, rich kid, Anton Yelchin is quite earnest and likeable as Charlie Bartlett. Perhaps it’s his friendly smile and the manner and number of times in which he would repeat, “Hi, I’m Charlie.” (If Yelchin wasn’t quite so charming and charismatic, he might be mistaken for remedial.) Or perhaps it’s how he could seamlessly rattle off Latin and French; sing and play the piano; and recite a monologue of how he got his period. Yelchin is like the “Great Gatsby” from Nick Carraway’s eyes (only Yelchin doesn’t call everyone, “old sport.”) He’s talented, excelling in the ability of making the audience feel empathy for a poor, rich kid. He has this boyish, All-American, Tom Sawyer quality about him — that if you talked to him long enough, he could probably get you to whitewash the white-picket fence for him. Yet at the same time, Yelchin can be very mature, offering proper insight and sage advice on the inner workings of the teenaged mind.

Yelchin, and the excellent actors in the cast, carry the film. Robert Downey Jr. is the antagonistic Principal Rooney character to Yechin’s Ferris Bueller. However, Downey Jr., as Principal Gardner, brings very real issues (like depression and alcoholism) to this Wiley E. Coyote/Roadrunner relationship. Hope Davis, who is most recently known for playing tabloid writer Nina Harper in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” is also excellent as Yelchin’s flighty mother who’s been depressed since her husband went to jail. The rest of the characters also hit their notes (i.e. Tyler Hilton of “One Tree Hill” fame resembles “Glee”‘s bully Noah Puckerman, played by Mark Sailing; while Kat Dennings has this Drew Barrymore, girl next door quality about her), but aren’t as memorable next to Yelchin, Downey Jr. and Davis’ nuanced performances.

The juxtaposition of the charm and sincerity of the film brings the playful and deeper nature of “Charlie Bartlett” to life. Director Jon Poll’s film captures some of the themes and nostalgia of John Hughes’ classics. “Charlie Bartlett” seems to be a cross between “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club,” portraying Yelchin as a trouble-making Ferris Bueller-type character, while showing that its OK for teenagers to break away from their stereotypical cliques. (For example, the football captain really wants to go to Paris and study art, while the school bully wants to take the most popular girl in school to a dinner and movie.) And although popularity isn’t priceless, perhaps being able to talk to someone about your problems is.

“Charlie Bartlett” was written by Gustin Nash and directed by Jon Poll.

‘Rock of Ages’: a guilty pleasure

It’s 1987. “Rock ‘n’ roll is a disease,” or so says Patricia Whitman (Catherine Zeta-Jones), wife of Los Angeles Mayor Mike Whitman (Bryan Stanton). The problem — Patty says — lies in “sex, hateful music, and…”

Patty pauses like former GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Perry did when trying to name the three governmental agencies he would eliminate.

“Sex,” she finally says as the conservative women around her gasp in horror.

Meanwhile, the supposedly dark and dirty realm of rock ‘n’ roll — embodied by rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), front man of the band Arsenal — is trying to persevere against the burgeoning ’90s boy bands that are ‘pop-ing’ up among the 14- to 21-year-old crowd. You already know how this story ends. (I’ll give you a hint: It’s a Journey power ballad recently resurrected by Fox’s hit television show “Glee.”)

Despite the predictability and cheesiness of “Rock of Ages” — (you would think with Fox’s “Glee” and NBC’s “Smash,” we would be used to people singing about their feelings by now) — it does what’s any Broadway musical is designed to do. It’s a safe, crowd-pleaser — comfortable and familiar like your favorite stuffed animal, fairy tale, or Bon Jovi song. You have your young heroine who gets on a bus to follow her dreams, a rock wizard who disappointingly turns out to be no more than a man hiding behind a curtain, a budding “Rolling Stones” journalist looking for a story but falling in love instead, and an opening sequence where everyone in a moving bus starts singing. (Does it sound like the plot to “Almost Famous” yet?)

In addition to the familiarity of the story, a familiar cast of actors propels the show. Catherine Zeta-Jones is known in another musical movie role as “Chicago’s” vaudeville actress Velma Kelly. Russell Brand is known for his comedic charm in movies such as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Alec Baldwin is Jack Donaghy of NBC’s “30 Rock” and ‘brass balls’ Blake from “Glengarry Glen Ross.” (At one point, Baldwin’s character Dennis, the owner of rock ‘n’ roll club, The Bourbon Room, talks about a band named Concrete Balls.) And who could forget Tom Cruise — strutting half naked for half the movie, eluding sex, seductiveness, and vulnerability.

“Rock of Ages” is different from director and choreographer Adam Shankman’s previous canon “Hairspray” because it covers Los Angeles’ underworld — from rock ‘n’ world to prostitution — while “Hairspray” features a teen-friendly television dance show. Still, that doesn’t make the singing and dancing numbers of either any less well done. Catherine Zeta-Jones does high kicks in a skirt while singing Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Tom Cruise straddles a microphone while he sings Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Julianna Hough pole dances as she sings Journey’s “Anyway You Want It.” Diego Boneto jumps up on the table as he sings a mash-up of Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The choreography to “Rock of Ages” is fun and high energy, even if the song transitions and plot are cheap and obvious. But like watching “Glee” these days, aren’t the music and big performance numbers why you’re still tuning in in the first place? And if rock ‘n’ roll is still a disease, “Rock of Ages” is also bound to be a guilty pleasure — so bad that you can’t help but watch.

“Rock of Ages” is directed by Adam Shankman and written by Chris D’Arienzo, Allan Loeb, and Justin Theroux.

To see this published in Imprint Magazine, click here.

Jesus’ ‘Godspell’ knocks on today’s door

Despite more than 20 centuries since the birth of Christ, the values and teachings of Jesus still ring true in contemporary terms — or at least that’s what the new revival of Stephen Schwartz’s timeless musical “Godspell” proves.

Under the direction of Daniel Goldstein, the formerly famous off-Broadway production portrays the ‘gospel according to Matthew’ in modern times. The opening prologue featured the cast sporting backpacks, jackets, handbags and other accessories labeled with the names of scholars, philosophers, religious leaders and forward thinkers such as Socrates, Aquinas, Galileo and L. Ron Hubbard, but cast members were also calling and texting on their phones and BlackBerrys. Later in the musical, a reference is made to Steve Jobs in heaven as well as the iPad tablet being the latest version of Bible texts. Other mentions of current events and people include the Occupy Wall Street movement, Donald Trump, Gaddafi’s death and Obama’s stimulus package.

In addition to modernizing the musical by referencing current events, “Godspell” also adopts a youthful and energetic vibe because of the young cast, which stars 24-year-old Hunter Parrish as Jesus, Wallace Smith as Judas, and “Hannah Montana” star Anna Maria Perez De Tagle, “Glee” star Telly Leung, Celisse Henderson, George Salzar, Lindsay Mendez, Morgan James, Ubo Aduba, and Nick Blaemire as disciples. Clad in jeans and a white button down shirt over his white t-shirt, Parrish lacks the long, flowing robes or long brown, wavy hair one might typically envision with Jesus. However, Parrish, best known for his character Silas Botwin in the television series “Weeds,” brings charisma and energy to his performance, becoming the magnetic individual that everyone wants as a friend. He does this by drawing other cast members as well as audience members with his infectious smiles, leaps in the air and laughter.

The contemporary feel of characters and materials, the use of impersonations, props and charades becomes a new way to retell Jesus’s parables as well as teach His rules, lessons and beatitudes. George Salazar’s narration becomes comical as he voices for Lindsay Mendez as she lip syncs to his words. Other scenes also have a similar tongue-in-cheek commentary, such as when Leung impersonates famous movie scenes such as Scarlett O’Hara’s (Vivien Leigh) phrase — “I will never go hungry again” — in the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind.” In another memorable scene, pieces of newsprint are used to create the head, arms, legs and torso of the man who is eventually saved by the Good Samaritan.  Similarly, lights and triangular materials are used to replicate the talking heads and mouths of the Pharisees who questioned Jesus.

Despite the light-heartedness and storytelling at the center of Act I, the conclusion of Act II takes on a more somber note. This is where Judas’s inevitable betrayal takes place as well as Jesus’s breakdown. “Could you not stay awake for one hour?” Jesus tells his disciples after he comes back to find them asleep. The “Finale” is particularly emotional, showing Parrish raised on a crucifix, ending with Smith and the rest of the cast carrying his limp body off stage.

The fact that the Circle in the Square theatre showcases ‘theatre in the round’ adds to the intimate element of the production. Julia Mattison, Morgan James’ understudy, comments on this “circular” element of the theatre firsthand after she says her lyrics, “I’m going to the front of the theatre” in the number “Turn Back O Man.” (“There is not front, there’s only this circle,” Mattison said.) Yet the stage provides the audience with a forum to see Jesus’s stories unfold — and the stories would be seen differently from every vantage point. Audience members are invited on stage at various points in the performance, and the orchestra, which consists of guitar, bass and piano players, are scattered among the audience. Trap doors beneath the stage are also utilized effectively to create a water site for Jesus’s baptism in the opening number “Prepare Ye” as well as trampolines for the cast to jump on.

Despite 40 years since it was last performed on the Broadway stage, “Godspell” is sure to entertain generations to come in its contemporary 2011 revival.

“Godspell” is performed at the Circle in the Square on W. 50th St. next to the Gershwin Theatre in New York City. Tickets can be purchased here.   

A ‘Gleeful’ Christmas

We have seen them belt out chorus after chorus in honor of artists from Lady Gaga to Brittany Spears to CeLo Green to Journey to Kanye West. We have seen them do musical numbers, such as Wicked’s “Defying Gravity,” and “Singing in the Rain,” complete with water and umbrellas, as well as mash-ups, such as “Halo/Walking on Sunshine.” We have seen them week after week on Fox’s hit show, Glee. Yet this season, Gleeks can celebrate the festivities a little bit early with the release of “Glee: The Christmas Album” on Nov. 16.

Like when the McKinley High glee club, New Directions, covered the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” releasing a Halloween CD before the episode aired, the Christmas CD follows in the same tradition, exciting fans for the future broadcast.

Once again, the cast of Glee proves their versatility as singers, sounding ‘gleeful’ to pop-y to soulful to angelic with a dozen of holiday hits. Beginning with a happy little ditty called “We Need a Little Christmas,” which features solos from Mercedes (Amber Riley), Rachel (Lea Michelle), and Kurt (Chris Colfer), the cheerful song sounds like it could have come from My Fair Lady or a similar Broadway musical. Colfer’s vocal abilities are astounding as he sings and harmonizes with the females in the glee club.

“Deck the Rooftop” — a Glee-style mash-up of “Deck the Halls” and “Up in the Rooftop” — follows, remixed with a little pizzazz. A strong steady percussion beat accompanies the glee club’s vocals, giving the song more hop than hip. Lea Michelle shines in “Merry Christmas Darling” and “O Holy Night” — slow, beautiful, and tender songs featuring her angelic voice and sounding like a chorus of angels.

However, the true gem hidden in this stocking-stuffer of holiday must-haves is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a fun and flirty duet between the budding gay couple Kurt (Chris Colfer) and the heartthrob from the rival boy’s academy Blaine (Darren Criss). The song is classy, exuding enough sexiness to rival Madonna’s Christmas classic “Santa Baby.” Again, Colfer is stunning, nailing the female vocals. Criss’s voice is smooth and suave. Combined, their voices soothe one like a warm mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter day, making one feel warm when “It’s Cold Outside.”

Yet, if there were a song that would ring true to who the McKinley High glee club are, it would be “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year.” The song echoes the glee club’s plight as outcasts of McKinley High, often getting bullied or slushied in the face for not being popular. First featured in 1964 animated movie Rudolph: the Red-Nosed Reindeer, “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” deals with a similar band of outcasts: misfit toys. The highlight of the glee club’s rendition is the outlandish quirky comments from cheerleader Brittany (Heather Morris), Artie (Kevin McHale), and Kurt (Chris Colfer). “How would you like to be a spotted elephant,” Morris says during the song in a manner much like how her character would often blurt out outrageous, yet hilarious lines.

However, if there were a pop single that could rival Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey’s fun and perfect Christmas duo, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Last Christmas” would put up a fair fight. The song features solos between the lead male and female couple, Rachel (Lea Michelle) and Finn (Corey Monteinth). Their voices compliment each other in this pop-style duet on love.

Meanwhile, “Jingle Bells” becomes a Marco Polo game, featuring the boys, Finn (Cory Monteith), Puck (Mark Salling), and Artie (Kevin McHale). With the musical accompaniment, one can envision the trio serenading at a jazz club, wearing suits and top hats. “Jingle Bells” is a refreshing burst of energy among some of the more somber songs celebrating Christmas.

The CD ends on a soulful and spiritual note with “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “O Holy Night,” getting at the true meaning of Christmas. Sung by Mercedes (Amber Riley), “Angels We Have Heard On High” sounds like a chorus of Halleluiahs on Easter Sunday, or perhaps a scene from Sister Act. Riley’s voice would fill any church, with her praise reaching the heavens above. Meanwhile, “O Holy Night” is what one expects to hear at midnight mass, just hours before St. Nick comes knocking down your chimney. Listening to Michelle’s voice, one expects to be able to close one’s eyes and see the star of Bethlehem and remember baby Jesus’s humble beginnings.

The Glee Christmas episode airs at 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 on Fox, featuring some of the songs from “Glee: The Christmas Album.”