Audiences at Morgan Hill’s CineLux Cinemas last weekend were full of glee for the world premiere of the movie “Gleeful,” a musical comedy filmed entirely in the South Valley and featuring a cast of more than a hundred young actors from the region.
“Gleeful” is a humorous parody of the hit Fox TV series “Glee.” The creation of John Bisceglie, founder of the Gilroy Children’s Musical Theater, the film brings to the big screen a song-filled story of what happens after budget cuts force the merging of two high schools – Gleeson High and Reese High – to form a new school named “Gleese High.” In the film, snobby kids from one school’s glee club are forced to interact with the other school’s “unusual” students, which include the superhero “Thor, the videogame plumber “Mario,” and a robot girl. By the end of the movie, all the youngsters learn lessons of tolerance and being true to one’s own dreams.
“For years I’ve always wanted to make a movie musical in Gilroy featuring our theater kids – something along the lines of ‘Attack of the Killer Garlic Monster!’,” Bisceglie said, explaining how “Gleeful” was born. “Recently, the Gilroy Community Services Department has had a tough time securing theater facilities for its live theater productions. With this in mind, I thought it would be the right time to make a movie musical and show the film in an actual movie theater.”
In the South Valley region, Bisceglie’s theatrical productions are known for their pop-culture references and silly puns. “Gleeful” continues the tradition with nods to Hannah Montana (with a teenage country music star named “Hannah Louisiana”) and Justin Bieber (with a character named Justin Beaver who has a passion for wooden logs).
Bisceglie took four months to develop the story and write the screenplay with his writing partner Larry Hayes. The movie was filmed at various South Valley locations including Christmas Hill Park and Christopher High School in Gilroy and the DKW Salon in Morgan Hill. All the songs in the movie come from Broadway shows or pop songs. Footage for “Gleeful” took 13 days to film over a series of weekends between October and January. It was funded by ticket sales from the cast as well as a registration fee of $200 that cast members paid to participate in the movie.
Bisceglie hired Mattie Scariot and Nils Myers of the Gilroy-based 152 West Productions studio to lead the film crew. Adding to the complexity of making a film, the team actually made two versions of “Gleeful” – a “red” version and a “blue” version – to give every young person involved a chance to be in the production. Even parents of the youngsters got into the act with a hilarious “flash mob” scene of zombie PTA members dancing to the Lady Gaga song “Just Dance.”
Gilroy resident Sandra Dean-Marlowe, a professional jazz singer, was awed by the talent of the young actors and musical performances when she saw the movie at the CineLux theater last weekend in a sold-out theater. “I’m always impressed with John’s ability to pull together such elaborate productions and get the most out of young people, and large groups of young people,” she said. “I was impressed by the quality of a lot of the singing. They kept the flow and there were not any moments of dead space.”
Morgan Hill resident Bob Benevento was also impressed by the range of talent of the young performers in the film. “After the show I asked the mom of one of the cast members if the singing was lip synched or actually the kids,” he said. “To learn that kids from South County actually did all of their own singing and dancing was so impressive. My hat is off to them. I also enjoyed seeing all the local landmarks in the movie, especially the scenes at Christopher High School.”
Benevento also added that the musical movie program provides great benefits not only for the kids who participate but also members of the community who get to enjoy viewing a family-friendly movie that focuses on the South Valley region. “Some kids are reluctant to take part in a program like this, but I think seeing some of their friends in a show could help motivate them to participate in the next project,” he said.
The Gilroy Children’s Musical Theater’s next major production will be another movie musical, a film called “Roar” which Bisceglie calls “a nod to the glory days of old 1920s Hollywood and the Ziegfeld Follies featuring tons of feathers, glitz, and over-the-top Busy Berkeley production numbers.” Auditions for this movie will be held in late August in Gilroy and Morgan Hill and filming will take place in the fall.
“Gleeful” will be shown for three more weekends at the CineLux Cinemas in Morgan Hill April 1, 15, and 22. Tickets for the movie must be purchased online at www.gilroychildrensmusicaltheater.com/gleeful-movie-tickets or by calling 1-800-838-3006. Tickets cost $13 plus a service fee of $1.45.