SOUND OFF: GLEE Is Born To Hand Jive
The results are in! And, last night, after a month-long hiatus, GLEE came speeding back to the small screen with the spiffy and spunky new episode, "The Role You Were Born To Play" - a Michael Hitchcock-written, Brad Falchuk-directed entry to Fox's hit musical series centering on the auditions for this year's McKinley High musical, none other than the campy 50s musical comedy GREASE! And, indeed, GREASE is the word - and, furthermore, the musical GLEE was born to do.
Sue Sylvester's curt comeuppance to a touching, tearful transgender commentary to a new love triangle in the making, the grand return of GLEE offered up many surprises and shake-ups to the structure and style we have come to expect from the ever-changing, eternally-evolving musical dramedy enterprise co-created by Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and this week's director, Brad Falchuk - there's always something there to remind us that GLEE is a step ahead and beat beyond. With rapid-fire, rat-a-tat-tat repartee as snide, biting and bitchy as any drag race this side of RuPaul, GLEE continues to redefine the recipe of what works and what an audience will accept - continually pushing boundaries in both directions; conservative comedy ala Sue's outrageous call-outs to the incredibly progressive and prescient treatment and depiction of gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Beyond all of that, few current TV series pack as much entertainment value into each and every minute of each and every episode such as GLEE always has and continues to do - the comedy is as sharp as a flick knife and the performances as shiny and polished as a brilliantine-d 'do. Now, with GLEE taking on GREASE over the course of two episodes, we get not only a tribute to a beloved musical along the lines of past well-regarded homages to THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW and WEST SIDE STORY, but, also, the behind-the-scenes hubbub that helps us to hone in on the essential elements that drew us into this wild, wacky, wonderful and winsome world in the first place - the passion of the art.
Stripped to its barest, most base hair hue, GLEE is really about deep, dark purple, as in passion - there was an episode last season titled "The Purple Piano Project" after all; and for good reason. GLEE is about examination, expression and enacting of emotion through the persuasive power of performance - whether you are singing it, acting it, dancing it, living it or just plain being it in your day-to-day life in who you are, GLEE celebrates what makes each and every person unique and focuses in on what makes a particular performer shine.
From the stunning debut of Lea Michele and the rest of the original gleeks to second season star standout Darren Criss all the way through to this new Season Four freshman crew - many of them selected from the Ryan Murphy-approved ranks of Oxygen's sister series, the reality casting competition THE GLEE PROJECT, as a matter of fact - GLEE is overflowing with talent, now as always. Optimally utilizing the best assets of the performers while still serving the story and plot as best as possible is the trickiest, most troublesome - and, admittedly, at times the most trying for die-hard gleeks - of all delicate balances to strike, yet GLEE has proven itself quite masterful in that regard over the span of 70+ episodes so far in its run - though wrong steps and sour notes strike more often than many would most like to admit. But, GLEASE, as it shall now be known, is the next logical step in the evolution of GLEE, exemplified in the manner of its depiction and pertinence to the plot (thematically, dramatically, actually and otherwise) over the course of this week and next week's GREASE-themed episodes - weaving the storylines all together into a seamless whole is the newfound series goal, more or less, and, while the NYC-set storyline is a bit uncomfortably shoe-horned in at this early stage of the transformation of the series into something new altogether, the early etchings of the pointillist painting coming into view is more precipitous in its accruing by the week. A masterpiece may be in the making after all - the dots are like notes and the symphony is starting to play; listen close and you can hear it still. Yes, some have lost faith in GLEE and it is not the ratings powerhouse it once was, but lighting can still strike twice.
"Hopelessly Devoted To You" byway of Blaine emotively pining for Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) leading the new gleek recruits in "Born To Hand Jive" were the two preview GREASE/GLESSE songs in last night's GLEE, and, although we must wait for next week's show for the electrifyin' big, big show, both went a long way in whetting our appetites for the 50s fun ahead. Additionally, Finn (Cory Monteith) joined newcomer Blake Jenner as football quarterback Ryder Lynn for a ROCK OF AGES-inspired "Jukebox Hero" and Kitty Wilde (Becca Tobin) joined Puck's younger brother Jake (Jacob Artist) in an impressively choreographed and spiritedly sung iteration of Pink's "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)". While this week had its share of joys, next week will be the pay-off for the long, long wait - musically, dramatically and thematically.
No, GLEE 4.0 is not perfect - to be perfectly honest, the show in every form never has been and it most probably never will be even close - but the ingredients are already starting accumulate in such pleasing a fashion for one to venture a claim that GLEE is evidently baking itself up into quite a satisfying and tasty treat if the new cast, the old cast and the new NYC-set story all work together in as appreciable, convivial and cohesive a manner as they appear to be doing over the course of these GREASE/GLEASE-centric episodes. Far from oil and water, it's grease and a bright burning flame - 1,2,3... boom!
Insofar as the cast list for the Finn and Artie co-directed production of GREASE at McKinley High, look no further than this all-too-apt assignation of actor to role: Brittany S. Pierce (Heather Morris) as Cha Cha, Sugar Motta (Vanessa Lengies) as Frenchy, Joe Hart (Samuel Larsen) as Doody, Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) as Kenickie, Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz) as Jan, Ryder Lynn (Blake Jenner) as Danny Zuko, Marley Rose (Melissa Benoist) as Sandy Olsson, Wade "Unique" Adams (Alex Newell) as Rizzo, Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist) as Putzie, Kitty Wilde (Becca Tobin) as Patty Simcox and Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss) as Teen Angel. If the just-released GLEASE soundtrack is any indication, it will be a must-see GLEE - so, be there or be a square, daddy-o!
Also, last week, BroadwayWorld hosted the world premiere of not one, but two exclusive tracks off of the soundtrack for GLEASE - check out both: Kitty's "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee", which is available here, as well as Marley's "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee (Reprise)", which is available here. Enjoy both - and be sure to pick up the complete soundtrack, then tune in next week for the too-cool full-out GREASE tribute as only GLEE can do (and 'do)!
More On: Michael Hitchcock, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, Lea Michele, Darren Criss, Chris Colfer, Amber Riley.