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LIMA, Ohio — Peggy Ehora can't help but laugh sometimes when she watches Fox television's Glee every Tuesday.
The Lima Senior High School graduate and former school board member makes sure to record the show every week, in part because the hit program about a fictional, under-respected high school show choir is set in the very real community of Lima, Ohio.
During the year Glee has been on the air, Ehora and other Lima residents have enjoyed looking for references to their hometown in the show. Scenes are frequently acted in front of school buses labeled "Lima Public Schools."
One hitch, though: there is no Target store in Lima.
While local fans of the show (Fox labels them "Gleeks") enjoy any accurate reference to their community, they get just as big a kick out of the things that are in the Lima Glee that don't exist in the real world. They chuckle at a scene where the show's choir, "New Directions" performs a big number at a two-story Lima mall. The real city's shopping malls are all on one level.
Lima fans have heard the story of how Indiana-born show creator Ryan Murphy remembered the city from childhood drives through the area. He appropriated it as a setting for his comedy-drama that inserts performances of popular music throughout the show to advance the story of a down-on-its-luck choir whose new director wants to make them great.
The idea of seemingly spontaneous outburst of song has caught on.
"It's hokey," acknowledges Ehora. "But it works. It's well-written and enjoyable."
The show has caught on beyond Lima's city limits.
On May 3, activity in the new, three-story student union at the Ohio State University in Columbus abruptly stopped when one student dropped his book bag and began dancing to the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin' " which was blasting over the sound system. Within seconds, a dozen more joined him, dancing in unison to the song that is Glee's unofficial anthem.
Onlookers leaned over railings to watch as more dancers ran down the stairs and picked up the dance steps. Seventy ended up in the performance — quickly drifting off when the music ended.
The flash-mob scene was planned and choreographed by OSU political science major Jordan Davis. She believed the tribute to Glee was appropriate because of the show's Ohio connection.
"They are supposed to be from Lima," she told the L.A. Times entertainment blog, Show Tracker, which sought her out after the recorded version of the event, quickly scored a million hits after being posted on YouTube.com.
That rivals the number of views for a song the Glee cast recently performed — a wicked take-off on a Madonna video "Vogue" also posted on YouTube.
The performance in the great hall of the union looks spontaneous and easy, but it took two and a half months of secret rehearsals. Davis knew that anyone who showed up at a practice location was in on the plan if they knew the code phrase, "Mr. Schuester." That's the name of Glee's Spanish-teacher-turned-choir director Will Schuester.
At Lima Senior, the "Mr. Shoo" of the choir is Steve Popa.
On a recent Monday in May he's running a disciplined dress rehearsal with one day to go before the music department's Spring Concert. The songs they will perform all have a Latin theme. He's concerned because half the members of the show choir are headed to Cedar Point for a physics day field trip.
Choreographer Tekla Murphy and assistant director Sandy Miller nod in sympathy, but they are used to it. While the New Directions choir appears to meet during the school day, the Lima Senior group arrives at the rehearsal room at 7 a.m. three days a week, the time before the school day begins being the only time the members can consolidate complicated activities.
Despite the commitment of personal time necessary to be in the show choir, there are usually plenty of students who want to give it a try. The Lima school district has an arts magnet program that funnels a steady stream of applicants into high school music programs. The three adults associated with the choir audition applicants for a combination of singing and dancing potential to get the 14 to 16 members that make up the choir.
It's not as easy as it looks, says David Duran a junior. "Singing while dancing is the hardest part for me."
Many choir members and their teachers comment that the Glee version of show choir with its extensive choreography and multipart harmonies doesn't accurately show how much work it takes to get the finished product into polished form.
Glee's show choir seems to be the only musical group at William McKinley High school: Lima Senior has five choral groups and the more formal Masterworks ensemble is the prestige group. The Glee choir is competing, and the first season has followed it toward a win a sectionals. In the real Lima, the show choir doesn't participate in competitions.
The premise for Glee is that the show choir is mocked for being made up of losers, with students from other schools mocking the choir members as Lima losers, while flashing an "L" formed from the thumb and forefinger.
In choosing Lima as its fictional home for Glee, the creators inadvertently hit on a school system where it actually is cool to be in the music program. When a new high school was being built several years ago, the state would pay for a combined cafeteria and auditorium, but not an auditorium. The community approved a separate tax levy to fund a high tech auditorium for the system's music and theater performances.
"The music program has always been rich," says Ehora, herself a band and choir member in high school days. Where she thinks the television show and the real school come together are in the variety of students involved.
"I love the mix of kids — that's what holds me," she says, speaking of the show. "And that rings true to me. The music program [in Lima] always had a mix of jocks, geeks, brains — it brought everyone together where nothing else did."
The final episode of the first season of Glee on Tuesday may tie together story lines that have kept fans interested all year. Will menacing gym teacher Sue Sullivan succeed in blackmailing the principal into cutting funds for the choir? Will choir member Finn realize that Quinn's baby is not the result of a "hot-tub incident" involving him? Will the New Direction win sectionals?
If any of those questions are not resolved in the episode on Tuesday, there will be time to get them settled.
The cast of Glee is finishing a three-week sold-out tour and beginning to shoot the second season this week. And Fox just signed the show for a third season, giving the Lima losers a little show business security.