Glee and the Ghosting of the Musical Theatre Canon

Barrie Gelles


The most recent, successful cross-section of media culture and the Broadway musical is the run-away hit Glee.  Although Glee features other music genres as often as it does songs from the musical theatre canon, the use of the latter genre offers a particularly interesting opportunity for analysis as it blends two forms of popular culture: the Broadway musical and a hit television show.  Applying the concept of “ghosting,” as defined in Marvin Carlson’s The Haunted Stage, I propose that the use of the musical theatre canon in Glee can sometimes offer a more complex reading of a given plot point and/or of character development. This inquiry will consider where the ghosting of the original Broadway musical enhances plot and character within Glee, and where it fails to do so.  What is there to gain from doubled layers of implications when these songs are performed?  What is risked by ignoring the “ghosts” of musicals past?  Finally, and tangentially related, how is Glee reframing the consumption of musical theatre?

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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303