Photographs by Janine Van Oostrom.
For six years Lea Michele sang her way into the homes and hearts of millions of people across the globe, while starring as Rachel Berry on Glee. On Saturday evening fans filed into Massey Hall for what would turn out to be an evening full of laughter, joy and tears.
As Lea took to the stage she started things off with “Cannonball”, from her first album Louder. It had been almost 7 years since Lea Michele performed in Toronto. The last time she took the stage was in the heart of the city at the Air Canada Centre with her Glee castmates behind her. From the beginning of the show she was overwhelmed with emotion and grateful for every single person in the theatre to be joining her. She told the audience that Toronto held such a special place in her heart as she had lived there back in the late 90’s while in the cast of Ragtime.
Lea talked a lot about her new album Places, being about how far she has come to be the person she is today, a person who has a lot of optimism and hope. With “Run To You” and “Anything is Possible”, you could truly sense the experiences and relate them to your own life. It was just so incredible to sit in silence with thousands of other people and just experience and feel all the emotion she was pouring out while she was singing. You could tell that a lot of people knew all the words to the songs but they didn’t want to sing-a-long and feel like they were ruining what they were witnessing.
When Lea started to talk about Glee, the already enthusiastic cheers, claps and “I love you’s” started to get louder and louder. Glee was such a global phenomenon that came out of nowhere and really drew you in. For most, it got us through high school, for others it was there for us during the transition between high school and college. The characters sang their way into our hearts and souls. Lea said she knew she wanted to include songs from the show because she knows how much it meant to everyone and she loved the over 800 songs they sang during its 6-season run. She asked the audience what their favourite songs were and the reactions were mixed but a very strong pull for “Don’t Rain On My Parade, Defying Gravity and Don’t Stop Believing” which provided some of Rachel Berry’s most iconic moments.
What started as fun and uplifting with covers of “Glitter in the Air” and “Poker Face”, quickly turned emotional. Lea sang, “Make You Feel My Love”, “The Scientist” and “Don’t Stop Believing” back-to-back-to-back without a hitch and you could feel the collective anguish and heartbreak. It was a lot to take in emotionally, you could feel it in Lea’s performance, and as I looked around the room there were a ton of people who were crying alongside me. Those three particular songs appeared in episodes that impacted the show in completely different ways. And while everyone was listening in both awe and with heavy hearts, they were not discouraged from singing along to “Don’t Stop Believing”, which was a truly moving experience.
After an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end of the set, Lea delighted the crowd with one more song. She said that when she completed her first album “Louder”, it was too personal and heartbreaking to tour so she never did. However, because of the place she was in her life, she found the strength to sing some of her favourite songs that she had ever written. “You’re Mine” was a breathtakingly heartbreaking way to leave Massey Hall, but it was rather cathartic and truly unforgettable. The intimate evening was everything you could have ever dreamed of, as a fan, and I can’t wait for Lea to return to Toronto in the near future.