31 March 2011

Wouldn’t It Be Great If Susan Graham Guest-starred on ‘Glee’?

A Very Special Guest Star?

The success of Glee has left a number of American opera buffs wishing that the show would somehow incorporate their kind of music, instead of continually recycling Journey and Madonna hits. From what I’ve seen, most of these ambitions are flawed in one critical respect: they want the kids of McKinley High School to perform operatic numbers. Wouldn’t it be great if New Directions sang “Va, pensiero”?

Sorry, gang, it ain’t gonna happen. In some kinds of crossover, one party needs to travel more than halfway. We need a more subtle approach — a fifth column, if you will, to infiltrate Glee — and I believe I have hit upon the solution. We know that the show’s producers like stunt casting, and so what we need to promote is a guest appearance by a leading singer. My first candidate for the job is mezzo-soprano Susan Graham: she’s funny, a terrific actress, looks great on camera, and she watches the show. It’s a match made in fanboy heaven.

I’ve taken pains to construct a scenario, illustrating how this might work. Feel free to submit your own suggestions for Susan’s guest appearance on Glee: it’s an idea we can all support.

One day after school, we are introduced to McKinley High School’s French Club and its sponsor, French teacher Roxana Roswell — played by guest star Susan Graham!

It’s a contentious meeting, despite the fact that there are very few members: just Rachel Berry (who must join everything, and who is the French club president and secretary), Mercedes (who doesn’t have enough to do on the show), Kurt (who’s left Dalton Academy and returned to McKinley, which you know he’s going to do, sooner or later), guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury (who studied French in college and hopes to brush up her skills, because really, she would) … and bad boy Puck.

Mercedes complains that Rachel shouldn’t be in the club at all, since she isn’t taking French class. Rachel counters that the club’s mission is to foster an interest in French language and culture, not to reward people for going to class. She expects she’ll probably study French when she goes to Juilliard, and besides, her accent is already good, since she memorized every song on the Je m’appelle Barbra album when she was six years old.

Amber Riley as Mercedes Johnson

Madame Roswell tries to keep the peace, but after the meeting is disbanded, she confides to Emma that she’s worried: enrollment in her classes has declined steadily. This year, she’s got only one class, with a mere five students, and Principal Figgins has assigned her to teach drivers ed to round out the rest of her schedule.

Cut to a shot of Brittany behind the wheel, with a terrified Madame Roswell in the passenger seat.

Emma agrees to do what she can to help, and later, we see her in her office, where a student is sobbing, “My grades are in the toilet, I have an eating disorder, my parents are getting divorced, my sister is turning tricks, and my brother has started a meth lab in the basement! I don’t know what to do!”

“Have you thought about taking French next semester?” Emma replies.

Heather Morris as Brittany

Meanwhile, Puck is still lurking around, and as he and Madame Roswell talk, it quickly becomes clear that he’s trying to put the moves on her. (After all, he’s always had a thing for older women.) Madame Roswell is amused at first, and she sings to him.

And here’s the genius part: she sings a Dalida song. Think about it. Dalida’s music is pop, it’s gay enough for Glee, it requires a real singing voice, it’s got big-scale emotional content, and it’s one area of French repertoire that Susan hasn’t explored.

My choice for the first number: “Bambino,” a gently mocking put-down of a young boy in love. Okay, maybe the random Italian vocabulary could be a little confusing, but it’s a great song, and Susan could nail it. And Mark Salling could accompany her on guitar.

Mark Salling as Puck

Then some other stuff happens. You know Glee, there’s always about six plots going on at any moment.

Later, we see Madame Roswell in Principal Figgins’ office. He’s just gotten the budget for the new school year, and he’s going to have to eliminate the French program. “There’s just not enough interest to justify it,” Figgins says. “This is Western Ohio: what good does it do anybody to learn French? They don’t serve filet mignon at Breadstix, you know.”

Jayma Mays as Emma Pillsbury

Madame Roswell stoutly defends the mother tongue of art, diplomacy, and love, but Figgins won’t budge. “My hands are tied!” he says.

The camera pulls back to show that, in fact, his hands are tied. For Sue Sylvester has taken him hostage, and now, just outside his office, she’s eavesdropping on the conversation. Threatened by (and strangely attracted to) another strong, intelligent, tall woman at McKinley High, Sue is engineering Madame Roswell’s ouster.

Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester

Then some other stuff happens.

Then there’s a special bonus scene. Rachel and Kurt are hanging out with Blaine after school, and Rachel, who hasn’t forgotten her famous kiss with the Teenage Dream, sighs teenage-dreamily, “Oh, Blaine, are there any more at home like you?”

“Why, yes, now that you mention it,” Blaine says, instantly producing his long-lost heterosexual brother, Jermaine, who is portrayed by guest star Wes Mason, the Darren Criss of opera. And all four of them sing something. [My suggestion can be found in the comments section below.]

Lea Michele as Rachel

Then we go back to Madame Roswell. The budget cuts are worse than expected, and the Lima school board votes to eliminate French classes throughout the district. If Madame Roswell wants to continue teaching, she’ll have to look for work somewhere else, possibly in that state where they’re still hiring French teachers. (You know the one I’m thinking of. It’s called … I’ll get back to you.)

So, while school districts across America are gutting programs and hacking away at budgets, this very special episode gives us a little topicality. Good.

Iqbal Theba as Figgins

Cut to Sue Sylvester in Principal Figgins’ office. She appropriates the French club budget — plus a box of leftover bérets basques and one slightly used crêpe pan — for the Cheerios. “You’re making this very hard for me,” Figgins protests.

“You think that’s hard?” Sue replies. “Try singing ‘Scherza infida’ flat on your back while sliding down some kind of a weird, dome-like structure. That’s hard.”

Naya Rivera as Santana

Before she leaves McKinley, Will Schuester invites Madame Roswell to join New Directions in a song. It is — naturally — a medley of two of Dalida’s greatest disco-era hits, “Monday, Tuesday … Laissez-Moi Danser” and “Mourir sur Scène.” On the stage of the school auditorium, the kids sing backup, and Brittany and Mike Chang dance like crazy.

Then, with a wistful gaze, Roxana Roswell hops onto her Vespa and scoots away — for now. (And I suppose that, if you’re really adamant about bringing operatic material to Glee, this would be an opportunity for Susan to sing “Adieu, fière cité” from Les Troyens.)

Fade out.

Your thoughts?

Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel

NOTE: It was always my hope that Ana María Martínez might guest-star on Ugly Betty, portraying the Suarezes’ streetwise but glamorous opera-singing cousin and perhaps performing “I Feel Pretty” with Betty and Hilda as back-up. Alas, it was not to be.


Anne said...

This is all starting to sound like a fever dream. I like it!

William V. Madison said...

I'm thinking that Jermaine could be a recurring character, getting into comical scrapes and mishaps when people mistake him for Blaine. They could even have their own theme music:

"Jermaine has lived most everywhere,
From Zanzibar to Berkeley Square.
But Blainie's only seen the sights
A boy can see from Lima Heights —
What a crazy pair!

Jermaine adores a minuet,
The Ballets Russes and crêpe suzette.
But Blainie loves to rock and roll,
A hot dog makes him lose control —
What a wild duet!

Still, they're brothers,
Identical brothers, and you'll find
They laugh alike, they walk alike,
At times they even talk alike —
You could lose your mind,
When brothers are two of a kind!"

John Yohalem said...

The song reminds me to say: From the INSTANT you mentioned it, I assumed the hetero Blaine would be played by the same actor as the gay one. Kind of like the end of "The Palm Beach Story."

But yes, I think you've got the right ideas in the right order. Except the idea of Susan Graham singing "Fiere Cite" makes me want to cut the crap, ditch Glee and just revive Troyens for her. (ANY excuse for a good Troyens is ace with me.)

William V. Madison said...

John Yohalem -- You make me happy: you got my Palm Beach Story reference. But I do think that, so long as we're trying to sneak visitors from Opera World into Glee, we ought to let Wes play Jermaine.

I'm lucky enough to have seen Susan Graham in Troyens at the Châtelet. A. May. Zing.

Anonymous said...

Your skill at getting under the show's skin amazes me.
It reminds me of Brown freshman year when you wrote a Greek tragedy for Donovan's class.

William V. Madison said...

Good grief, Anonymous, I didn't know that anyone remembered the play I wrote for Bruce! (The Renaissance commedia I wrote for Sears Jayne was actually pretty good.) Who are you, anyway?

Chelsea Laggan said...

Have you heard? The Met announced via Twitter (still SLIGHTLY ashamed to be using it lol) that GLEE was filming in Lincoln Center Plaza today! Sadly Susan's in Texas right now. But I still hold out hope! Afterall, Joyce is still in NYC.... :) Either one of them on the show would without a doubt make the funniest episode ever! Here's hoping!