SOUND OFF: O Holy GLEE... And All That Jazz
"For the first time in its charmed yet pitiful existence the New Directions has lost Sectionals," and, with that, indeed did "Christmas came early for one Sue Sylvester." As GLEE gave the gift of its inimitable takes on a number of musical theatre showstoppers - among them, songs from CHICAGO, COMPANY and HALLELUJAH, BABY - to gleeks around the world with last night's aptly-titled "Swan Song" episode, the Lima-based glee club that now and always acts as the focal point of the show faced perhaps its most treacherous hurdle yet - and that's not even including Sue's always evil usurping shenanigans. In NYC, the temperature rose in much the same way that it actually unseasonably happened to do in Gothan itself this week with a spectacularly sexy "All That Jazz" and some seriously stage-worthy barn-burners courtesy of the more obscure "Being Good Isn't Good Enough" - recently re-introduced to the world at large by no less than Barbra Streisand in her landmark 2012 tour (as well as on her recently released cut-out compilation RELEASE ME) - and the COMPANY classic "Being Alive". While next week is sure to provide all the holiday cheer a show named GLEE could possibly muster - which is a whole heck of a lot - this week's "Swan Song" (written by Stacy Traub and directed by Brad Falchuk) reminded us why GLEE connects and continues to express an all-too-rarely explored, expressed and enacted trope of those who are involved with the performing arts: competition inspires greater dedication, thus greater performances. That is, if you accept the challenge. Also, be sure to check out the SOUND OFF Exclusive World Premiere First Listen tracks from earlier this week if you haven't already for the full studio versions of GLEE's "All That Jazz" (available here) and "Don't Dream It's Over" (available here). Now, onto the show!
Being Alive, Being Good & Just Plain Being
"So, that's it? No more GLEE?" Say it ain't so! And, thankfully, it isn't - despite Sam's (Chord Overstreet) claim and the most dastardly of efforts by nefarious nuisance Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). Appreciably, too, did the penultimate episode before the winter finale of GLEE coming next week - a LOVE, ACTUALLY and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE homage-heavy holiday celebration - answer the prayers of Broadway babies among the legions of gleeks with a hearty slew of theatre standards by the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Kander & Ebb, Comden & Green and Jule Styne, to name-drop but a few. On that note or two - or, actually, more than a few, to be exact - in this very column did BroadwayWorld world premiere two songs from last night's wacky and wonderful edition of the enviably enduring Fox musical dramedy mega-hit as we were given exclusive early Christmas presents in the form of the biggest Broadway-based show of Season Four so far. "All That Jazz" from CHICAGO as sung by Rachel (Lea Michele) and Cassandra (Kate Hudson) and the New Directions sextet treatment of Crowded House's 80s hit "Don't Dream It's Over" were two central performances of the music-packed hour and both act as evidence of the still-invigorating power that the one and only entity known as GLEE can have on a song - and it delivers these masterpieces to a whole new audience while doing so; time and time again, week in and week out. How many kids perhaps heard their first Stephen Sondheim song last night? Comden & Green? And it is because of that persuasive influence that GLEE will remain invaluable to theatre enthusiasts if only because it brings a considerable amount of the sparkle, polish, pizzazz and, well, razzle dazzle, of the magic of Broadway to the whole wide world through the international medium of TV. That's not all it does - and does more than merely good enough - either.
The new Lima, Ohio/New York, New York split-storyline has re-energized the proceedings of GLEE this season in many significant ways - forced storylines that admittedly started to grate a bit in the darkest, most dire moments of Season Three (of which there were a handful, but in retrospect less than expected) have mostly been eradicated, although some of the cartoonishness can get a bit out of hand at times - though, hasn't it always, really? With the ridiculous comes in almost equal portions moments of true ingenuity, passion and sporadically even much more - just last night there were glimpses of GLEE at its best; stirring sequences and also mere fleeting shots and quips contributing to the overall effect. "Being Good Isn't Good Enough" is one of those moments. So, too, was Kurt's (Chris Colfer) "Being Alive" a highlight of the oeuvre thus far amassed by Colfer on the show (with too many major songs from musicals to even start listing off); and, to that point, you could say the same for Michele and her three show-stoppers (which is really saying something). True delights - both. An anthem oh-so-apropos for Rachel as the character and, by extension, Michele as a performer, the entire NYADA Winter Showcase was an elegant fete befitting of an episode partially named after the most refined of fowl, the swan. And, like a swan, did the self-professed "new Rachel" finally spread the vast expanse of her wings and fully take flight (even if real swans don't really fly) - both in the aforementioned sexy and stupendous rivalry of the mildly Fosse-esque dance duel duet iteration of "All That Jazz" courtesy of Rachel and Cassandra as well as "Being Good Isn't Good Enough", and, topping even that, Michele's spine-tingling take on the Christmas anthem "O Holy Night" - a song originally released as part of the first GLEE: THE MUSIC Christmas album compilation though never shown on the show, but finally included in a momentous, sensitive performance sequence last night proving it was well worth the wait. Also of note last night, Whoopi Goldberg once again made an impact and contributed a fine and moving portrayal in her recurring guest-starring role as tough-to-please NYADA dean diva supreme, Carmen Tibideaux. But, does she really hate one of Sondheim's best ballads or was that just an unfounded rumor? I repeat: say it ain't so!
As for the romance: Rachel and Brody (Dean Geyer) seem to have found common ground and a renewed interest in pursuing a relationship, though what that spells for the Rachel/Finn (Cory Monteith) pairing we can only guess (jeez, that phone call was devastating). Kurt and Blaine (Darren Criss) seem destined to be together somehow in the final reel, too, but a single-life-affirming anthem such as "Being Alive" could certainly call that notion into serious question, could it not? Furthermore, what exactly will the Blaine/Kurt "White Christmas" spell for that progressively portrayed same-sex pairing and how it plays out come this time next week? And, what of Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany? Then, on the subject of newly formed bonds, what will be next for the casually dating (or not?) "Somethin' Stupid" pair indelibly essayed by stalwarts Brittany (Heather Morris) and Sam? Then, there is Marley (Melissa Benoist) and her subsequent love triangle, ensnaring new BFFs Noah (Jacob Artist) and Ryder (Blake Jenner). And, will Kitty continue to be catty to, well, everyone? And, what of Mr. Shue (Matthew Morrison)? Additionally, if all the old gang gets back together at McKinley High for the holidays, what will that spell for the ghosts of relationships past… and future? Well, we don't have too long to wait to find out - less than a week, actually. We can savor the heart-stopping, evocatively snow-strewn strains of the episode's awesome finale, "Don't Dream It's Over", until then. What a joy!
"Swan Song" was a delightfully refined and more than merely amusing GLEE and a wonderful reminder of the gifts the show can still give us gleeks by the bagful if we just let it do so. As Rachel related, "Glee is about the love of the music," and, one goes with the other really well. And, when GLEE is good, it can be more than just good enough - it really can be the best.