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SOUND OFF: GLEE Gets GREASE-y (With Helen Mirren!)


Showcasing six of the show's strongest supporting performers in a vast array of arresting ways in the first ten minutes was merely one of a myriad in the embarrassment of riches on view as GLEE roared its way back after a multi-week Winter hiatus last night. From GREASE done grandly and giving Amber Riley and Chord Overstreet a duet to linger in the memory - "Summer Nights" - to Helen Mirren's unexpected and unquestionably brilliant narration for Becky (Lauren Potter), and, the piece de resistance: Jayma Mays backed up by Jane Lynch and Dot Jones on the Laura Nyro-penned Fifth Dimension stoned-soul classic "Wedding Bell Blues" - ingeniously accredited to "Will!" in this iteration. While the opening sequence of the show packed a wallop and stood as clear evidence that at this stage in Season 3 GLEE is far from treading water and very well may be the most polished and smooth and consistent it has been since the first episodes of Season 1 (and even then). Matt Morrison and Kevin McHale - backed up by Harry Shum, Jr. and the boys of New Directions - strutted out the recent Maroon 5/Christina Aguilera hit "Moves Like Jagger" in a mash-up with the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" with sleek stylishness to spare and some ferociously fierce moves. REAL HOUSEWIVES reality star NeNe Leakes as the synchronized swimming coach certainly made a strong first impression in her over-the-top and hilarious characterization of a, well, over-the-top and hilariously-written character (Sue Sylvester better watch out for her). Speaking of strong writing, co-creator Brad Falchuk wrote the "Yes/No" episode and it was directed by a helmer of many of the show's best in previous season - an actor in his own right - Eric Stoltz. Three knockout musical numbers in the first fifteen minutes in addition to the two aforementioned cameos was only the start of an episode evidencing the most consistently entertaining show on TV in top form as we head into the meaty middle of GLEE Season 3. Three proposals in, and all signs point to "Yes" for GLEE in Season 3 - let us hope Rachel follows suit in her response to Finn when the show returns in two weeks with the highly-touted Michael Jackson tribute episode.

But, Oh, Those Tuesday Nights

The convergence of GLEE and GREASE on TV screens across America last night must be a sign that we are headed in the right direction in 2012 after all - not toward the apocalypse and end of times. I mean, GREASE and GLEE are so very much a part of the entertainment culture in this country and so representative of how we see ourselves - or do not, as the case may be - as a culture, and, most of all, so many archetypes may be found in each that say so much about us. The jocks and the geeks forever battle it out for turf and there is always a new meanest girl or baddest boy on the high school campus to raise some Hell. The same seems to repeat and remain true throughout life, does it not? Life is high school after all, is it not? Whether we want to admit it or not, it very well could be - or, at the least, a parable of why the road ultimately leads where it does for each of us based on the decisions and identity we created for ourselves way back when. While the messages of GREASE and GLEE may be in polar opposition - giving up individuality to be cool versus being cool largely because of one's individuality - both show a slightly satiric snapshot of America at a certain point in history, a half century - a new century - apart. Each represents a generation. Some things never change. If last night's "Summer Nights" was any indication of what is to come for future GREASE tributes on GLEE, there is some big-game-worthy anticipation to be had for gleeks and Broadway babies alike in coming weeks and months. What could possibly be next? Perhaps: A Naya Rivera "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee"? A Sue Sylvester "There Are Worse Things I Could Do"? A Darren Criss "Sandy"? A Lea Michele "Hopelessly Devoted To You"? Plus, all those unforgettable group songs - "We Go Together", especially ready for New Directions treatment? The tantalizing possibilities are seriously enticing.

Yes, yes, yes - the first fifteen minutes managed to make a major mark - "Summer Nights" and "Bill" are great songs, no question, and "Moves Like Jagger" is ear candy and catchy, if nothing else - but there were other standout musical, dramatic and comedic glories to enjoy, as well. Besides the rare chance to hear Dame Helen Mirren utter the colloquialism "Boo-yah", we also were treated to a tremendous trio-led cover of Roberta Flack's soul standard "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" with spine-tingling visuals to match the appreciably succulent and sweet vocals from Lea Michele, Jenna Ushkowitz, Amber Riley and Naya Rivera. On the dramatic side of the show, Cory Monteith and Matt Morrison were provided with a satisfying story arc to tie in with the new nuptial plans of Will and Emma - never Wemma - and Finn given the long-awaited back-story of his birth father, with some well-worn tears and sensitive acting by all concerned. Then, there were the final moments of the show. What will Rachel answer now that she has been asked the question she has always wanted to hear from Finn - or thought, hoped and wished she would hear him say? Sue Sylvester's plans to foil Coach Beiste's upcoming wedding also played into the "Yes/No" theme of the show's title and made good use of the always delightful dynamic - and ensuing snark - of Sue and Becky's lovably cruel and too-cool interactions. Later on, they got the chance to add some heartfelt and adorably kind contrast, as well. So, too, did Jayma Mays get a generous dramatic scene with Will following a heart-wrenching scene showing her snotty parents and their smug dismissal of him. Mays made it matter while also providing many layers - as always - to her complex, OCD-plagued McKinley High guidance counselor character. Let's hope for another Will/Emma duet soon - their chemistry is increasingly apparent and their relationship is more interesting than it appeared it would turn out to be at the outset seasons ago, for sure.

Yes, particularly with the recent news that some of the current McKinley High residents would stay on the show despite their characters graduating at the conclusion of the season, the biggest yes of all goes to Broadway's own female crossover star of the decade, Lea Michele. As she previously did with Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" this time last year on the post-Super Bowl "Sue Sylvester Shuffle" super-sized episode, Lea Michele made the David Guetta/Usher "Without You" all her own - and even better than the original. What an absolutely stunningly sung and supremely attention-grabbing performance! Soul laid bare, displaying a range of emotions from ecstasy to complete desperation and despair and back to hope and, maybe, even, love; this performance was some of her best work on the show to date. That good. It's a perfect companion piece to the international smash hit song, but, on repeated viewings, it appears to be a significantly superior song in this GLEE version, enough so to rank among the show's best covers to manage to equal or better the originals. Rachel and Santana - with back-up from all of New Directions - did a more faithful vocal rendition of Rihanna's "We Found Love", with some Busby Berkeley-inspired pool-set synchronized swimming visuals to almost make Esther Williams herself seethe with jealousy. If the song itself didn't make your heart melt, the following Will/Emma proposal certainly did - or "will"; as the case may be.

Yes, indeed: GLEE is back and Tuesday nights are finally complete for the very first time in 2012. Yes - all is right with the world again; well, at least until December 21 (or, before even then, the GLEE Season 3 finale).

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Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)