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A CurtainUp Review
With Glee is set in Westbrook Academy, a Maine boarding school for boys. In the opening number, "Bad Kid School," we learn how five troubled youths end up at the school together.
Nathaniel (Christopher Davis Carlisle) blew up his school. Sam (Max Spitulnik), a poor kid from Pittsburgh, tried to earn extra cash by stealing a car. Scott (Zach Bandler), a pampered preppy, thought he was going to Disney World when his parents took him to the academy. Kip (Jason Edward Cook) wants to put on shows, but his parents want Westbrook to make a man of him. Clay (Dan Lawler), who has been at Westbrook for several years, has an unusual attachment to a model boat he has named Mortimer. All the adult roles (parents and Westbrook personnel) are played by Greg Horton and Erin Jerozal.
The boys are at first wary of each other, except for Nathaniel, who eagerly tries to make friends like a friendly puppy meeting strangers. But everyone, save Clay who can't stand his battling parents, wants nothing more than to get back home.
The problems these young men have are all too typical. They are unsure of their sexuality. They resent adults. They are misunderstood by their parents. They do not understand why they are taught irrelevant subjects at school. These conflicts keep the show rolling along, but the stereotypical nature of all the boys prevents the show from having the depth that makes a musical great.
Although With Glee has no major incident to sink your teeth into, the plot does thicken when, after a series of mishaps, the headmaster takes Clay's boat away. The boys decide to put on a musical (written by Kip, of course) as a diversion, so Sam can steal the boat while everyone is enjoying the performance. This musical has something to do with a German Nazi befriending and betraying boys at an academy not much different from Westbrook. It's just a bit more unlikely than Gregor's show.
The show might be improved if Gregor would make clear exactly how old these boys are. At one point they seem to be about 13. Then Sam hotwires a car and does an admirable job driving it away from Westbrook until running out of gas. Also, the boys' interest in girls seems a little advanced for very early adolescence, even in the 21st century.
As directed by Igor Goldin, the show is filled with gusto and humor. The score, old-fashioned and pre-Sondheim, echoes favorites from the heyday of Hollywood and Broadway musicals. There's even a Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche, "If You Want to Be a Vanderberg."
Carlisle, who has the greatest number of the songs, has a fine voice, and manages to give his character the most texture. But all of the actors make the most of the material they are given.
With Glee is certainly well named. It's as light and refreshing as the morning dew. But like the dew it soon evaporates.