Lea Michele giddily announced her engagement to boyfriend Zandy Reich on social media this spring, but the wedding planning is getting off to a slow start.
She's too busy spending the summer bopping around the country with the other man in her life.
That'd be her former "Glee" co-star (and real-life close, personal friend) Darren Criss, with whom she has teamed up for a co-headlining concert tour dubbed "The LM/DC Tour" that will feature — naturally — a host of songs from the musical comedy-drama television series Fox aired from 2009-2015. They'll play Charlotte's Ovens Auditorium on Sunday, July 1.
But while there will be some fixtures on the set list, if you're one of those people who looks up set lists online in advance hoping to go in knowing exactly what they're in store for, don't rely on your research. Be ready for a surprise or two. Or five.
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"So we definitely want to do our hits from 'Glee' — the songs that Blaine and Rachel sang together — as well as some of the solo songs that we did on 'Glee,' since our fans really want to hear those fan favorites," Michele says. "Then we're also gonna incorporate songs that we did on our solo records, as well as some songs from Broadway.
"But maybe we'll do a couple songs that people have never heard us sing before. Turn some solo songs into duets. And Darren's the kind of guy where he'll go, 'Hey, I heard this song on the radio. Let's do this song tonight.' And then the next night, maybe we'll do something different. That's what's great about Darren: He really keeps things so spontaneous and fresh. I don't really perform like that, so for me, it's keeping me on my toes, and I like it.
"I mean, I totally expect Darren to be like, 'Hey, can I sing "Don't Rain on My Parade" with you tonight?' And I'll be like, 'Umm, OK!' (Laughing.) 'Let's see how that sounds.'"
Here's more from our recent conversation with the 31-year-old singer-actress, whose work on "Glee" was recognized with three Grammy nominations, two Golden Globe nominations and one Emmy nomination. The interview took place before the tour kicked off in Nashville on May 30.
Q. What inspired you and Darren to team up for this tour in the first place?
Well, I went on tour last year — when I was promoting my second album, "Places" — and it was a fantastic experience. I loved being on the stage, I loved getting to meet my fans and going to different parts of the country. But it's also a pretty lonely experience. So I wanted to find an opportunity for Darren and I to go on the road together just to do something different but also have that company and make it a little bit of a fun experience for me as well as work. ... But I think we finally realized we had to do it in October. Darren put together this awesome festival called Elsie Fest. It's a music festival. We did it in New York together in Central Park in front of some 4,000 fans — we were just singing together in the middle of the park, and it was so beautiful in New York City, and we did a good, decent-sized set together. After that night, I was like, "Oh, we really have a connection together when we perform. We should make this into something." That was the real push for the two of us.
Q. So I know you get asked this all the time, but what do you think it was about "Glee" that helped to so firmly root it in popular culture?
I think if it was one thing, then everyone else would be doing it. I think that "Glee" had all the ingredients put together, and it became magic. That's the honest answer. I think if you really had to simplify it, I would say that music is the universal language. And you combine music with these incredibly relatable characters, with subject matters that people were experiencing that maybe not a lot of people wanted to talk about ... plus, our cast. I mean, no one else could have played those characters except for every single person that played them on our show. So it was just all of those things combined. ... No one had really done a singing television show, and we brought music back into people's living rooms. I think that that was the hook. Then everything else was the magic.
Q. You and Darren had never met before "Glee," right?
Q. Was there a connection immediately, or was that something that grew over time?
I think Darren and I got a lot closer towards the final seasons of the show, because his character moved to New York. So I would say around Season 4 was when our characters started doing more together. Rachel and Kurt moved to New York, and Blaine would come to New York to visit us, so we would often fly to New York on weekends together to film those scenes. And that was so fun to get outside of the set on Los Angeles and go to New York and film "Glee" in the city together. Then in the final season, our characters had a lot (of scenes) together, and Darren and I would go out to lunch in between together. That's when it was more than just friends at work, when we started hanging out in our down time together as well. ... Now our families are friends and we spend holidays together, we do a lot of benefit performances together, we get asked to sing at a lot of charity events together.
Q. So would you describe your relationship with Darren like a brother-sister thing?
Absolutely. We look so incredibly similar that it seems like we could be related. He really does get me outside of myself, and he pushes me to have a little bit more fun or be a little bit more adventurous. You can't not have fun with Darren. I love being around him, and that was really the goal with doing this concert together. I really do love Darren. ... But yes, he is like the brother that I never had. I guess younger brother — I think I'm older. But (laughing) we don't have to focus on that. It's probably only by a couple of months. (Michele is just over five months older than Criss.)
Q. These bonds you developed with co-stars on the show — with Darren, with Jonathan Groff (who played Jesse St. James and who'll be the "maid of honor" at her wedding) — they seem awfully powerful. And rare. In that sense, on a personal level, do you think you'll always consider it the most special thing you've ever done?
Well, Jonathan and I, we became friends prior to "Glee" — on "Spring Awakening," which I did on Broadway. And we just recently went to Parkland and worked with some of the students from Stoneman Douglas, who are now doing a production of "Spring Awakening." So that show in and of itself was also such a very incredible moment in time for me. ... But, obviously, "Glee" was amazing. To have one experience like that in someone's lifetime is amazing. I don't know if I'll ever experience anything like that ever again, and maybe you're not supposed to. It truly was unbelievable, and I always look back on it with just the most incredible memories. And that's the thing with this concert that Darren and I are doing now: It's a real opportunity to honor the experience that we had with the show, which was truly positive, and to get to reminisce on some of those experiences with the audience each night in concert. What we really want to also do is tell stories that go with the songs. A lot of my concerts, they're like storytelling as well. So if we do a certain song, we also want to make sure that we tell the story behind that song — what it was like when we were filming the song on the set of "Glee" and when we first heard that our characters were gonna sing that song. I think that people really love that as well, to get a little bit of a glimpse on what that was like for us in the midst of this huge moment in our lives.
Q. What's interesting — in thinking about you and Darren as a singing duo — is you just don't see this type of act very much. If ever. That's something that was big in the '70s, where you had —
Donny & Marie? (Laughing.)
Totally. I mean, a lot of people are going on the road together (as co-headliners), like Demi (Lovato) and Nick (Jonas) were on the road together ... just because, like I said, it's so much more fun to be with someone. ... But I think what we're doing (putting a greater emphasis on duets) is a little bit more of that classic structure. We're making this much more of an intimate experience with the two of us. And I think that that's what our fans will appreciate, is it's really just an opportunity to hang with Darren and I for a night.
Q. This is a stupid question maybe, but will you two be traveling from city to city on a tour bus?
So Darren's gonna be on the bus. I'm gonna do a little bit of time on the bus, but if I go on the bus the entire time, I probably will never get any sleep. Darren will keep me up all night long. And I'm a very strict performer, especially with my voice. So I will be on the bus — and having fun — as much as I can, but other than that, I'm gonna be the grandma and be resting and whatnot.
Q. But he's a guy, so he can sleep anywhere, right?
Q. By the way, you could almost call this "The Engagement Tour," couldn't you? Or "The Newly Engaged Tour"? (Criss also got engaged this year, to girlfriend Mia Swier.)
(Laughing.) I know, right? We're both leaving the wedding planning to our significant others while we go on the road.
Q. I assume you're still on Cloud Nine?
Yup, still. Oh, my gosh, totally. Still in shock. I keep looking down and being like, "Oh, my gosh, this is actually happening." I couldn't be happier, truly. ... We're both at very similar places in our lives, Darren and I, like you just mentioned. And we have such great support from everyone in our life to go on the road and do this together. What better time than now — before we have families, and before we take these big steps in our lives — to go and do this concert tour together?
Lea Michele and Darren Criss
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 1.
Where: Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd.
Tickets: $29 and up.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com.