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Gleeam (Fringe Festival 2011)

by Karen Tortora-Lee on August 21, 2011

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There was so much to be excited about before heading into Gleeam – the Glee / Scream Mash-up Musical written by Andrew Lloyd Baughman with lyrics by Phil Close and directed by Emily Jablonski.  First of all, the advanced artwork was fun and clever.  The iconic loser “L” now holds a menacing knife!  How cunning!  Secondly, the idea was how-can-you-miss?-perfect: two well-recognized, well-received  high school memes thrown together to create one  fantastic pot of crazy zaniness.  Hilarious!  Thirdly, the venue (Le Poisson Rouge) is sexy and spooky all at the same time, glowing red against oceans of black.  “This is gonna be good,” I thought to myself as I took my seat and waited – I’ll say it – gleefully … while taking in the gorgeous backdrop done by talented artist Jared Davis.

It didn’t take long, however, to realize that Gleeam was actually not going to live up to its advanced hype.

Backdrop by Jared Davis

The story is thin, but that’s not really the worst part.  Basically we find the Glee kids (their names removed, their stereotypes inserted, so we’re left with characters called “Slutty Slut”, “Wheelchair Kid”, “Gay Kid” etc.) going about their business in the Scream world, where one by one they start getting picked off in gruesome and bloody ways. It’s predictable.  Okay … I’ve seen flimsier plots.

There were some technical difficulties and some characters had to deal with terrible static coming through their head mics, but the actors gamely navigated around those issues – at least during the performance I attended.  So that wasn’t really the worst thing either.

A number of jokes either fell flat or were so steeped in fan-lore that it required too much dot-connecting, leaving the audience feeling left out.  How do I know?  Because the venue is cabaret-style seating and it was easy enough to read the faces of fellow audience members.  Throughout the short show I saw many people who looked confused, or far too happy (by contrast) to see the waitress arrive with their soup.  Food should not be the highlight of your theatre experience.

Gleeam didn’t actually make much use of the synergy you’d expect would be at its disposal by combining two hugely popular franchises, which is a shame.  There was so much potential here and much of what could have been brilliant parody was left to flounder in the shallow end of  head-scratching mockery.

But here’s my real problem with Gleeam.  There were two particularly polished moments in the show that elevated the entire production to a level which it just couldn’t maintain – one, the duet “Gay Enough For Love” between Sensitive Jock (Harv Lester) and Gay Kid (Jase Parker) and the show-stopping “Black Don’t Crack” sung by Black Girl (Justine Hall backed up by Phillip McLeod, Patrick Prebula and Brad Rakushin) which brought down the house.  Moments like this made it clear that the team behind Gleeam had the goods to deliver … so why did the rest of the show look like it was trying to catch up to those two breakout moments?

It’s unnerving to know that a show could be better than what it is.  It’s disappointing to watch a cast of extremely talented people working with material that’s not giving them enough to shine.  It’s frustrating to know that a theatre company which already brought one mash-up to the 2010 Capital Fringe (Carrie Potter at the New Moon Prom) wouldn’t have arrived on the NYC Fringe scene this year with a tightly produced show worthy of its namesakes.

Personally I’d love to see this show go through a few more tweaks – there’s way too much potential in the material for it to not rise to the height it deserves.  That the cast is talented is undeniable, and the songs by Phil Close were clever, funny and thoroughly enjoyable. Plus, all the begging-to-be-mocked plot lines are there.  In the end, however, rather than pop and sizzle the whole thing ran sadly and slowly down the wall like a carelessly tossed Slushie. To quote Gleeam itself:  “Sometimes a mash-up combines two great tastes into something downright awful … and everyone hates it.”


The Landless Theatre Company
Writer: Andrew Lloyd Baughman, with Lyrics by Phil Close
Director: Emily Jablonski

1h 15m
VENUE #15: Le Poisson Rouge
Fri 26 @ 3:45

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PhilNo Gravatar August 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Now in some fairness, you did see a 3PM Tuesday show with an audience full of seniors. ;) Gleeam is a parody for Gleeks – that might not resonate with all of the mainstream, but hey, that’s why it’s fringe. See Backstage (Critic Pick!) and NYTimes for alternate opinion. Thanks for the review!

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