6 Broadway Players Who Got Their Start on Glee | Playbill

Film & TV Features 6 Broadway Players Who Got Their Start on Glee

From Darren Criss to Melissa Benoist, the musical television series showcased multiple Broadway-bound stars.

Company of Glee Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks for Gleeks! While the fandom has yet to receive confirmation of the rumored Glee reboot, the popular series has found its new streaming homes on Disney+ and Hulu after leaving Netflix in late 2021. It’s been a long six months, but the 11-time Emmy-winning show from co-creator and executive producer Ryan Murphy arrives on the streamers June 1 in celebration of LGBTQIA+ Pride month.

First premiering on Fox in 2009, the pop culture monolith ran for six seasons until 2015. The show follows the New Directions, a high school glee club on their journey to show choir fame. The cast included Lea Michele and Jenna Ushkowitz, fresh off their runs in Broadway’s Spring Awakening, as well as Cory Monteith, Kevin McHale, Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Heather Morris, Naya Rivera, and Dianna Agron. Broadway alum Matthew Morrison, who had just appeared in South Pacific, led the New Directions as Mr. Schuester. Other Broadway favorites appeared in the series over the course of its six-season run, including Idina Menzel, Kristen Chenoweth, Jonathan Groff, and Neil Patrick Harris.

For several players, however, their singing roles on Glee may have served as an audition for their future Broadway careers. Here is a list of six Broadway players who got their start on Glee, or the Glee-adjacent reality series The Glee Project.

Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch Shutterstock

While Jane Lynch made appearances in many popular television series such as The L Word, Criminal Minds, and Two and a Half Men prior to Glee, she first exercised her singing chops on the musical series as cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. The fast-talking, insult-throwing tyrant went head-to-head with the show choir teens before eventually growing fond of student Kurt Hummel and his relationship with Blaine Anderson, and slyly rooting for the singing teens. Lynch received numerous awards for her portrayal, including a Primetime Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy, a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in Television, and a People’s Choice Award for Best TV Comedy Actress. During her time on Glee, the performer starred in the rotating cast of Nora Ephron’s Off-Broadway play Love, Loss, and What I Wore. After the musical series concluded, she made her Broadway debut as Miss Hannigan in Annie and can currently be seen on the Main Stem in Funny Girl as Fanny Brice’s mother.

What did Lynch sing on Glee? Popular covers include “Vogue” by Madonna, “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj, and “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John.

Darren Criss

Darren Criss Matthew Murphy

When Darren Criss originated the role of Blaine Anderson, he was not a newbie to the musical theatre sphere. As a college student, he founded the theatre company StarKid Productions which rose to popularity in 2009 after their Harry Potter musical parody, A Very Potter Musical, reached virality and garnered a large fanbase. Joining the series in his breakthrough role as the Katy Perry-obsessed heartthrob in Season 2, the performer soon found himself making his Broadway debut in How to Success in Business Without Really Trying before going on to star as the title character of Hedwig in the Angry Inch on Broadway, and in Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Criss is currently appearing nightly in the all-star Broadway revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo.

What did Criss sing on Glee? Popular covers include “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry, “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane, and “Something's Coming” from West Side Story.

Melissa Benoist

Melissa Benoist

Melissa Benoist joined the cast of Glee as a season regular in 2012 after many of the original characters graduated and went off to college. She played Marley Rose, one of the most memorable newbies given her challenging storylines revolving around poverty and disordered eating. Immediately following Glee, the actor landed the title role in the D.C. television series Supergirl. However, she took a summer off from filming the superhero drama to make her Broadway debut as the title character for a two-month, limited run in Broadway’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

What did Benoist sing on Glee? Popular covers include “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee (Reprise)” from Grease, and “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” by Pink.

Lindsay Pearce

While not earning her claim-to-fame on Glee, Lindsay Pearce guest starred in two episodes after placing as runner-up on the Oxygen network reality competition The Glee Project—a series that set out to discover Glee’s next star. Pearce premiered in Season 3 as a former Gerber baby model and New Directions’ competitor, Harmony. Following her debut television appearance on the Glee-adjacent series, the performer began to book regional theatre roles including the title role in the Hollywood production of A Snow White Christmas alongside Neil Patrick Harris. She made her Broadway debut in 2020 as Elphaba in Wicked and is now with the national tour of Mean Girls the Musical as Janis Sarkisian.

What did Pearce sing on Glee? Popular covers include “Anything Goes/Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better) mash-up from Anything Goes and Annie Get Your Gun, and “Buenos Aires” from Evita.

Alex Newell

Alex Newell Jenny Anderson

Also a runner-up in The Glee Project Season 1, Alex Newell won a two-episode arc on the main series, as transgender teenager Unique Adams. The fan-favorite character quickly became a recurring role on Seasons 3 and 4 of the musical comedy, and he joined the main cast in Season 5. Newell made his Broadway debut in the 2017 Tony-winning revival of Once on this Island revival as Asaka, the Goddess of Earth.

What did Newell sing on Glee? Popular covers include “If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce and “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray.

Ali Stroker

Ali Stroker Bryan Bedder for Getty

As a finalist of The Glee Project Season 2, Ali Stroker was awarded a guest appearance on the Fox television series in the Season 4 episode “I Do” as the niece of school counselor Emma Pillsbury (played by Jemma Mays). While only granted a small non-singing appearance on Glee, she starred in every episode of her reality show season and performed 15 musical numbers including solos “Popular” from Wicked, “Here’s to Us” by Halestorm, and “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper. After her reality show appearance, she went on to star on Broadway in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening revival and as Ado Annie in the 2019 revival of Oklahoma!—a role which earned her a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

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