Darren Criss and Lea Michele Spread Glee

Written by | Entertainment, Screen, Stage

Lea Michelle and Darren Criss

Lea Michelle and Darren Criss

He went on to The Assasination of Gianni Versace, and she went on to star in Scream Queens, but now Glee stars Darren Criss and Lea Michele are reunited on stage in a concert tour – and it feels so good.

It was Gleek Heaven at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts as the LM/DC tour made its way to Costa Mesa after stops in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego. The LM and DC stand for Lea Michele and Darren Criss, two of America’s Sweethearts from the beloved six-season TV series Glee.

Superfans of all ages were pumped to see their idols perform live on a multi-city tour that will extend to the U.K. and Ireland in November and December. The pair were greeted by thunderous applause as Gleeks came out in full force to take in the talents of a formidable twosome who possess enough charisma and charm to power a small country. But we weren’t sure what to expect: would we be seeing Lea and Darren or their Glee alter egos Rachel and Blaine? Fortunately for this crowd, we got all four.

They kicked off the show with an appropriate kitschy Sondheim number “Broadway Baby” (from Follies in case you were wondering) which put their showmanship and their roots in musical theater on full display. As most Gleeks know, both stars have impressive Broadway bona fides, Lea having made her Broadway debut at the tender age of 9 as Young Cosette in Les Misérables followed by a string of roles in Ragtime, The Diary of Anne Frank, Fiddler on the Roof and the breakout hit, Spring Awakening. And Darren busted any notion that he would be pigeonholed as the squeaky-clean Warbler from Glee when he took on the role of Hedwig in the touring production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Now in their early 30s, these two kids have gone on to promising careers as multi-hyphenates. Each has recorded two albums and Darren recently picked up an Emmy Award for his performance as serial killer Andrew Cunanan in Ryan Murphy’s latest iteration of the anthology series American Crime Story.

The concert was a smartly crafted two-hour showcase that gave the fans what they wanted. Like the television series that made them household names, they found a way to merge Broadway and pop culture in a way that was exhilarating and infectious. In many ways, it hearkened back to an earlier time; it’s no accident that Glee ascended in an era that coincided with the über-progressive Obama presidency – wildly expanded the boundaries of representation (particularly of LGBTQ characters) on network television.

Criss and Michele were refreshingly warm and personable throughout, even having some fun at their own expense by comparing themselves to their slightly more successful doppelgängers Nick Jonas and Idina Menzel. Coincidentally, I had just seen Josh Groban and Idina Menzel at the Los Angeles Forum, and LM/DC was a bit like déjà vu. In fact, Idina and Lea both sang “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and both crushed it. Both concerts featured the duet “Falling Slowly” from the movie (and subsequent Broadway show) Once.

Lea Michele and Darren Criss

Lea Michele and Darren Criss

Darren and Lea Go Solo

Criss and Michele also took turns leaving the stage for the other to perform solo, which seems to have worked out quite nicely. She shared her insecurities and neuroses, which were reminiscent of the qualities which made her Glee character Rachel Berry so endearing, and she sang a lovely rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” She confessed that she loved playing Rachel Berry and admits to sometimes still watching the show. She also asked the audience to shout out their favorite songs from the series and rewarded them by singing short riffs from them. She sang a few of her own favorites, too, including Gaga’s “Pokerface” which she had sung as a duet with Idina Menzel on Glee. She admitted that one song she wished she’d gotten to sing (but which ended up being sung by her female costars) was Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.”

During her six years on Glee, Michele explained that she only got to pick three songs. One of those songs was Pink’s “Glitter in the Air.” After seeing P!nk perform the song at the 2010 Grammy Awards – suspended from a piece of cloth in one of the artist’s now-famous, signature, death-defying acrobatics – Michele felt she could conquer her own fears about performing live. She followed this up by singing “Glitter in the Air” and a song from her album Run to You (not to be confused with Whitney Houston’s “Run to You” from The Bodyguard).

Next, Criss returned to the stage to sing his set which included one of my favorite cover songs from Glee, “Cough Syrup” (by the band Young the Giant). Darren admitted that he never thought he’d have a professional career in theater since his voice skews more rock/pop. But as the genre expanded, he certainly found his place. He then segued into a song, which I somehow had forgotten he performed on Glee, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (famously performed by Olivia Newton-John in the movie Grease). This is the type of gender-switch Glee was known and celebrated for, and it gave me the first chills of the night. Darren then sang a couple original songs; the first of which, called “Going Nowhere,” had an indie-folk vibe which suited him well.

Criss went on to share how he spent his pre-Glee years doing stints at bars and restaurants, honing a knack for contemporizing Broadway songs – which segued nicely into his self-styled indie rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” (from Les Miz). In one of the more meaningful segments, he also sang “Not Alone,” a song he wrote which played a formative role in his career. I’d never heard the song before, but I could understand why the song opened doors for him. He then sang Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” which he’d famously sung on Glee. Before he sang, he asked that people not sing along, which may have seemed to run counter to his audience-pleasing sensibility, but it does hearken back to a particularly emotional moment on the show and one can imagine it was done to avoid the discomfort of fans straining to hear him over the racket of fellow audience members.

Michele rejoined Criss for the final stretch of the show. One of the highlights was a duet from the new A Star is Born called “Shallow” which really showcased their talents. As the evening drew to a close, the pair took a moment to thank the audience for being an indispensable member of the phenomenon that was Glee. Together, they sang a song Darren wrote which became the final song of the series, called “This Time.” They followed that up with the very first duet they shared together on the show, ‘80s Brit-pop sensation “Don’t You Want Me.” And for an encore, they sang a Bob Dylan cover called “Make You Feel My Love,” which Michele famously sang in the episode memorializing the passing of castmate Cory Monteith. The acoustic arrangement was a stripped-down, touching way to end the show with heart and sincerity. As the crowd rose to their feet for one last ovation, you could indeed feel the love in the air.

Last modified: November 14, 2018