SOUND OFF: GLEE's Outrageous Opening Night, FUNNY GIRL Style
"This place smells like barf!" exclaimed Sue Sylvester upon arriving in the Big Apple for the very first time. Yet, nothing came close to stinking in last night's Glee - actually, it was one of the most April fresh and Broadway-centric, blissfully entertaining episodes to date, all considered. FUNNY GIRL, too! Plus, BroadwayWorld got lovingly name-checked - again!
Last night's "Opening Night' episode of GLEE, penned by Michael Hitchcock and directed by stalwart director (and sometimes actor) Eric Stoltz, was a delightful reminder that Glee remains the only mainstream entertainment dealing directly with Broadway and those who love it on a regular basis - besides, of course, Broadway itself. Gone are performing arts fests SMASH and BUNHEADS, with Glee still standing as a reliably enjoyable offering week in and week out - according pleasure factors varying, natch. Nevertheless, with a show focused on the opening night of a new revival of one of Broadway's most famed diva vehicles - composed by GYPSY and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES composer Jule Styne, no less - the fireworks were certainly expected by the faithful gleeks among viewers, and thankfully delivered in full. One of the most memorable musical moments from last night's show first appeared in this very column in its premiere over the weekend, with Lea Michele's "I'm The Greatest Star" - available here - so to see the full, fabulous FUNNY GIRL moment come alive was enchanting to witness; a credit to the intriguing carnival-flecked visualization, amplified further still by Michele's dead-on Streisand look, sailor suit worn more than merely well all the while.
"I'm The Greatest Star" was not the only FUNNY GIRL showstopper we were treated to, though, given that "Who Are You Now?" was shown a fine singing by the unexpected MVP of the ep - well, perhaps in a tie with Ms. Michele - of Jane Lynch. The pathos of the performance given a moving undertone byway of fallen Finn (aka Cory Monteith) infused the proceedings with an unexpectedly powerful weight, as well. After all, in a score as jam-packed with hits as this one is, it is not one of the most well-remembered songs - but, as with the title song a few seasons back in the firm grasp of guest star Idina Menzel, Glee can make songs new for an entire generation, and, sometimes, create covers as worthy as the originals. Lilting and just plain lovely. Showing off her rarely-heard soprano - lest we forget her infamous 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN song - Lynch also excelled alongside Matthew Morrison in a cute and spunky cardboard cut-out "N.Y.C." sequence, giving the ANNIE anthem a likable rendering - not to mention Lynch's delectably devilish delivery of the anti-NYC speech during her nighttime news segment. Outrageous, offensive and unquestionably repeat-worthy. Of course, Lynch herself starred in the 2012 revival of ANNIE, plus her persuasive "Little Girls" had its premiere in this very column a few years back, even before that, as it was seen on the series back when it was set in Ohio.
On the note of Ohio - and the more odd and quirky side of the episode, as it happens - Rachel imagined herself in a nightmare McKinley High-set performance sequence, complete with Mr. Schue, Sue, Blaine (Darren Criss), Kurt (Chris Colfer), Santana (Naya Rivera), Sam (Chord Overstreet), Becky (Lauren Potter) and more - even the return of Karofsky (Max Adler). Once-ubiquitous hit "Lovefool" by The Cardigans was also weirdly employed, too, with Michele impressing anyway with the airy pop frippery. Nonetheless, the nightmare dominated all - and, appropriately so. Truly, what could be scarier than headlining a huge Broadway show as lead-dependant as FUNNY GIRL?! As Rose sings in GYPSY, "You either got it / Or you ain't," and, boys (and girls), she's got it - and showed it off in spades. And sequins.
The diva showcase was further supplanted by a touching speech given by Santana - looking jaw-droppingly flawless - at bedside, Rachel rife with opening night jitters. And, expectedly so! Besides touching upon the fiftieth anniversary of the show itself, the Barbra Streisand allusions and tribute continued onto the stage itself, seeing Rachel's styling as Fanny Brice in FUNNY GIRL. Hello, gorgeous! But, after the (many, many) ovations - goodbye. Margo Channing ala APPLAUSE would be proud of Rachel's gay bar celebration, with the pulsating and empowered recent dance hit "Pumpin' Blood" by NONONO setting the sweaty scene. Heck, they somehow even found a way to utilize a swing! In a twist of fate and destiny, all of this was in lieu of attending standard opening night festivities - tradition be damned, as it were. "I thought it was supposed to be about a funny girl," guest star Chris Parnell posited - and so it goes with GLEE: you either get it and love it, warts and all, or... you don't. It's hard not to love a show as drama- and thrill-filled as last night's entry - and, even the fiercest naysayer would be forced to agree, at least if they are a theatre fan.
But, that all said: pre-Broadway tryout in Syracuse? Reviews actually coming out first thing in the morning (as opposed to online later that same night)? And, Sue's hot and heavy Brooklyn apartment-set one night stand? Talk about stretching reality to the brink - and Glee does, can; and always will. That BroadwayWorld reference was spot-on, though, no?! Seriously: appreciably powerful speech by Rachel to Sue near the conclusion only added to the mix in a richly rewarding way, as did the birth of Mr. Schue and Emma (Jayma Mays)'s son, named after - in a sweet touch - Finn.
Despite Broadway Glee style and all its dazzling entertainment value, he real question still remains: when will Lea Michele herself make her grand return to the Great White Way? Furthermore, will she be starring in FUNNY GIRL as her idol Barbra Streisand famously did way back when? Michele herself exclusively confirmed to me in our InDepth InterView earlier this year, available here, that that's definitely the plan down the line, after Glee eventually concludes following next season, so we shall certainly see! Now, it's more or less just a matter of time, I guess! We can hope, at least. Surely, last night's "Opening Night" was a surefire sample of what a terrific treat that enticing casting possibility finally fully realized would be for fans and neophytes alike - not to mention the fact that we have been deprived a full-scale revival of the superb Styne star showcase for far too many decades. Is it time - or, will it be in 2016 or thereabouts? It's hard to deny it - it is. That's how it feels - and feelings were running high last night. Let's hope the streak continues.
Next week: "The Back-Up Plan"! NYADA, TV pilots, shake-ups and Shirley MacLaine! Stay tuned.