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SOUND OFF: GLEE Returns With FUNNY GIRL, Fights & 'Frenemies'

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Light the lights! FOX's hit musical dramedy series returned after a long midseason hiatus last night - and how! To cite an especially adored and incredibly iconic Jule Styne score (lyrics courtesy of Stephen Sondheim, needless to say), GYPSY, the fights, fits, feuds and some gigantic egos were on display - and it was an episode fit for Madame Rose - but the focus was really on Styne's other iconic diva showcase (with lyrics by Bob Merrill), FUNNY GIRL. Let the parade begin... again!

SOUND OFF: GLEE Returns With FUNNY GIRL, Fights & 'Frenemies'Breakaway

We believe in a thing called GLEE. While always rewarding in the musical department, Glee has remained remarkably resilient and sentient despite the tragic loss of lead Cory Monteith and some general story inconsistencies - which is no doubt due to the striking stylization and note-perfect casting throughout. Last night's "Frenemies" return episode exemplified that aspect of the enterprise - along with some strong acting and intriguing plot scenarios employed as well, spotlighting underused regulars and a guest star or two, too. Although the Lima storyline remains less exciting than the NYC goings-on with Rachel (Lea Michele), Santana (Naya Rivera) and Kurt (Chris Colfer), there is no question whatsoever that Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is dazzling in her deranged, arrogant affectations as always, with delectably decadent dialogue offered in the Ned Martel-penned, Bradley Buecker-directed S5 offering. Plus, oft-overlooked and ignored stalwart supporting player Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) was featured in a handful of impressive numbers, too.

SOUND OFF: GLEE Returns With FUNNY GIRL, Fights & 'Frenemies'On that note, school slid back into session with the breezy and ingratiating sounds of the Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks duet "Whenever I Call You Friend" courtesy of dueling valedictorians Tina and Artie (Kevin McHale). Layered and combustible, their chemistry is convincing and quite delightfully touching, particularly in regards to the wheelchair accident enacted at the conclusion of the "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" - the latter musical showpiece originally brought to fame by female hip-hop legends En Vogue. From the brio of "a breakdown" to the heartbreaking "Breakaway" - the latter Kelly Clarkson's international hit given a graceful new ensemble treatment by the Glee crew; with Artie and Tina teaming up with a perhaps currently unsuspecting but suspiciously intuitive Blaine (Darren Criss) and the rest of the New Directions company - the ep showed a wide range of emotion and also sported a generous dose of social, school and societal commentary. Sharper and smarter than many entires in recent memory, the show returned with a renewed energy and verve - especially in the NYC-set scenes. No question about it, though, this was a music-packed show with an appreciable amount of drama and comedy to go with a healthy dose of Broadway backstage bitchery, as well. Some soul-stirring, as expected, additionally.

SOUND OFF: GLEE Returns With FUNNY GIRL, Fights & 'Frenemies'Taking a bite out of the Big Apple, Santana and Rachel are soaring in their new Broadway roles as star and understudy, respectively, in a brand new Broadway revival of the classic Barbra Streisand vehicle FUNNY GIRL. Evoking a near-VALLEY OF THE DOLLS or ALL ABOUT EVE-esque biting and tart backstage view, the FUNNY GIRL-related rivalry between the dueling divas was played out over the course of a triptych of impressive showstoppers - well, only two true duets, with Santana's superb and radio-ready take on "Don't Rain On My Parade" a luscious listening and visual experience to say the very least. Truly, Rivera is proving to be a standout star of the series, all considered, with a lasting impact that will reflect favorably upon her in the future, no doubt - she is attention-grabbing, clearly blossoming, and a formidable and understandably commanding foe to Rachel insofar as Michele's dedicated take on the overbearing and overtly talented Glee character is concerned. Indeed, Rachel's reactions during the FUNNY GIRL understudy audition alone was a highlight of the season, if not the series. The diva exploration continued byway of a Barbra Streisand homage full-out with a fashion montage highlighted by the recent Sara Bareilles radio hit "Brave" to go along with the FUNNY GIRL wink. Hello, gorgeous!

Speaking of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS-level drama and backstage brouhaha: "This is my big break and she is poisoning it!" More, you say? "You think that she is just some babe in the woods who is perfectly fine with living off of the scraps of my star sandwich." So sayeth Rachel. Furthermore: "I am on the cusp of something that most people never even touch. A dream come true. I am going to be a star on Broadway," and, with that, Rachel shows the ugly side of stardom - and herself. "Breakaway," for sure. What will come next in the enviably cool spot the trio call home base?
With the season amping up and the storyline reaching a crossroads soon to bring a sole focus on the NYC side of the bisected series, it will certainly be a time to tune in if there ever were any - particularly given the exciting line-up of shows coming up, climaxing in the hotly anticipated 100th episode arriving in March. If sequences as visually appealing and interestingly designed as the evocative "Every Breath You Take" musical number capping the Rachel/Santana pairings continue to crop up in the future, Glee will forever remain must-see TV for the open-minded musical entertainment enthusiasts with a Broadway bent among us (which, let's be honest, is most of us).

SOUND OFF: GLEE Returns With FUNNY GIRL, Fights & 'Frenemies'Besides the match-ups of Artie and Tina as well as Rachel and Santana, Kurt and Elliott aka Starchild (Adam Lambert) explored a bubbling rivalry - and undeniable attraction that could conceivably lead to romance given the unexpected, yet well-intentioned peck on the cheek, as a matter of fact. The enjoyable moments with Kurt and company were a welcome juxtaposition to mirror the crumbling friendship of Rachel and Santana and the test of endurance and empathy given to Tina and Artie by Sue. Well-played and subtly so, one of the many joys of last night's show was overall attention to detail and development of plot to go with the spectacular show-stoppers - such as: the raucous and glittery rock opus "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" was fueled with fire and flair by Lambert alongside Colfer, making the duo looking likely to be set for future duets, as well, it would seem - on and offstage. Let's hope - at least for the former, if not the latter (apologies to Klaine fans). Plus, what will happen with the FUNNY GIRL spotlight and backstage drama? Tune in to see.

Next Tuesday? A super-special GLEE-vent! And, soon after that, Glee 100!

SOUND OFF: GLEE Returns With FUNNY GIRL, Fights & 'Frenemies'

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Pat Cerasaro Pat Cerasaro is BroadwayWorld's Chief Interviewer and Senior Editor, contributing exclusive columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Flash Fridays as well as additional special features and extensive news coverage. His work for the site has appeared in The New York Times, US Weekly, The Biography Channel, NBC and more.