Shalhevet choir goes backstage at ‘Glee’

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Rachel Lester, Features Editor

Rachel Lester, Features Editor

Bypassing a line that wrapped at least halfway around the building, 13 members of Shalhevet’s choir walked into the Saban Theater April 21 and headed straight for reserved seats in the balcony, where they watched a taping of the hit TV show Glee and got to question stars, producers, and the show’s vocal coach and arranger.

The choir got free passes to the taping thanks to Dave Chameides, Director of Sustainability, who does camerawork on the show. With Dave and choir director Mrs. Joelle Keene, the group left school at 2 PM and walked over to the Saban, about 30 minutes away on Wilshire Boulevard east of La Cienega.

“I thought it was pretty awesome,” said junior and bass Emilio Lari. “I had never been to a taping of one of my favorite shows. [It was] especially awesome getting to know the characters.”

The episode being filmed was the season finale, and the crowd in the Saban was playing the part of the audience at “Regionals,” the final competitive performance of Glee’s “New Directions” show choir at the end of the year. Upon entering, everyone received, as props, programs that had the lists of actors and the words to the songs played. There were at least one, and possibly two, plot spoilers, though they left the choir with more questions than answers.

“It didn’t ruin the season for me,” said sophomore and tenor Justin Brandt-Sarif. “I thought that the ambiguity made it suspenseful. I can enjoy the season just as much with a small bit of knowledge.”

Once inside, the red-carpeted floors and stairs, combined with an art deco silver proscenium around the stage, gave the effect of being at a prestigious award ceremony.

Slightly disappointing for some of the Shalhevet students, most of the time the day’s filming was of New Directions’ arch-rival, “Vocal Adrenaline.” The audience watched the rival group perform its number over and over again, cheering identically for the cameras when they finished every time.

But since the regular Glee performers weren’t actually working, while producers re-set for each “Vocal Adrenaline” take they came up to the balcony right to where Shalhevet was sitting and answered questions, including many from the choir group.

Kevin McHale, who plays wheelchair-bound Artie, was asked if he is jealous that he doesn’t get to dance like the other actors, and he responded saying, “I was for the first few days… until I saw how much work it was.”

Dianna Agron, who plays the pregnant Quinn, revealed that the main difference between her and her character is that on the show, Quinn is a devout Christian, and in real life, Dianna is Jewish.

And possibly the highlight for Shalhevet, junior and soprano Ariella Benji asked Mark Salling who plays Noah ‘Puck’ Puckerman, if he is a “bad boy in real life.”

“No,” Salling said. “I’m the worst boy.”

In addition to those three, Amber Riley (Mercedes), Matthew Morrison (Mr. Schuester), Chris Colfer (Kurt), Lea Michele (Rachel), Jane Lynch (Ms. Sylvester), Cory Monteith (Finn), Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina), Naya Rivera (Santana), Heather Morris (Brittany), Harry Shum Jr. (Mike), writer Ian Brennon, and Assistant Choreographer Brooke Lipton all talked to the audience for varying lengths of time.

Especially interesting for the choir was getting to talk to Tim Davis, Glee’s Vocal Contractor, about his job. Students and Mrs. Keene bombarded him with questions and found out that the stars of the show were hired more for their acting and dancing ability, than their ability to sing.

Asked what happens when an actor who can’t sing is cast, Davis paused before saying loudly, “Next question please,” earning laughter from the choir and neighbors listening in.

None of the cast can read music, he said, so he and other music coordinators pre-record each star’s part in a song and have them learn it from a CD during their free time. They later record it with the cast, and when they are dancing they lip-sync to that recording.  It’s difficult and sometimes has to be done several times just to get the synchronization right, Davis said.

“If the song has four female harmonies, the girls will record each harmony separately as a unison group,” said Davis, who has also arranged music for Happy Feet and all of the Spiderman movies. “This will give us lots of texture on each part, rather than having one female voice per harmony. It will also sound much larger this way. For the ‘Vocal Adrenaline’ numbers, when we record, we try to make it sound as big as possible.”

The 14 stars of the show, he added, who spend most of their on-camera time acting or dancing, sometimes only sing for 30 to 60 minutes a day.

“I really liked Tim–he was really helpful and kind of put it into perspective that the choir needs to work harder and that it is possible to learn the music quickly,” said Ariella Benji. “The people in the show really don’t have a musical background and they still learn it quickly so we should be able to do the same.”

Davis said the first number that was filmed at the set, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” performed “by Vocal Adrenaline” (the opposing glee club), had around 10 choral parts and took professional singers about 16 hours to record, making it the most difficult one he’d worked on.

There were also around 20 professional dancers that performed in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a complicated dance number that lasted about five minutes, with 10-minute rests in between each take. It was repetitive but not uneventful: one dancer accidentally was kicked in the eye mid-song, a

costume person could be seen blow-drying sweat off the clothes of lead singer Jonathan Groff (Jesse St. James), and other performers had a dance-off to keep the audience entertained.

The regular Glee cast,  “New Directions,” started filming at 9:30 PM.  By then all but five choir members had long since gone home, but those who stayed heard their trademark Journey song, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” mashed up with a few other songs by the same artist. Afterwards the audience was filmed

several times applauding and cheering according to specific cues given by a stage manager.

One more unplanned bonus was that several Shalhevet students had the chance to meet some of the actors accidentally. Glee star Lea Michelle (Rachel Berry) and Jonathon Groff were found outside the theater at the food table, several “Vocal Adrenaline” dancers were standing around in the lobby, and Mark Salling (Puck) was caught and photographed with members of the choir on his way out.

“It was really cool to see the stars outside of the TV screen,” said sophomore and bass David Fletcher. “I’ve never been to a taping before so it was really fun to watch.”