Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
In “I Am Unicorn,” McKinley High gears up for their production of West Side Story, with several of our principal characters battling for the leads. Meanwhile, Kurt makes a run for class president, and music coach Shelby Corcoran (guest star Idina Menzel) steps back into the lives of Rachel (her biological daughter) plus Quinn and Puck (the parents of her adopted child).
Last week in this column we talked about Glee’s apparent attempts to carry out season three with a purpose many claimed the show lacked last year. One of the through-lines established in “The Purple Piano Project” was the performance of the school musical, which we learned would be West Side Story. I assumed they’d save its whole production for a few episodes down the line (much like last year’s Rocky Horror), but it seems the show is really taking to heart the notion of letting plots build throughout a season. Here we get only part of the West Side story in the form of auditions, with several of our main characters (namely Rachel and Kurt, but also Kurt’s boyfriend Blaine) attempting to claim the leads. That’s a serious change of pace from last season, where Rocky Horror was announced, produced, performed and cancelled in the span of 45 minutes.
Something else I mentioned last week: over the summer, the show’s producers had announced their intentions to cut back on the number of songs per episode. “Purple Piano Project” packed in a standard five, but here in “Unicorn” that reduction seems to be taking place. This episode features but three songs, certainly the fewest ever on an episode (a few towards the end of last season had four). Moreover, every one of the songs comes from a musical — two, reasonably, from West Side Story, plus one from the Barbra Streisand vehicle Funny Girl. Not much can be said for the variety of tunes on display here, but these songs definitely make sense given the context of the episode; no one could accuse the show of forcing these in. And even though I always champion variety both of song styles and of singers, I don’t really have any complaints about the songs in “Unicorn.” One might hope that, since it now seems plots are going to be given a chance to grow over many episodes, lots of characters will get their turn in the spotlight, so I’m okay giving this one over to the regulars.
That said, I have a question for our readers: did you miss the songs? I’m not asking whether you wish the songs were different or better somehow, but rather, did you notice that there were less of them than usual, and did it bother you? Their absence didn’t really strike me, and I felt the episode carried on quite organically, but I wonder how others will take it. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below. Hypothetically, would everyone be cool with only three songs an episode going forward?
Somewhere (from West Side Story)
The episode’s first song provides Rachel (Lea Michele) with her audition piece for the role of Maria. She wants to perform “I Feel Pretty” (a song the show already touched, in a mash-up with TLC’s “Unpretty,” in last season’s “Born This Way”), but is told to be more daring by her estranged mom Shelby. The two end up performing “Somewhere” as a duet, which works well — Menzel’s excellently cast to complement Michele both physically and vocally. And Rachel’s mom is right to push her into performing this, because Michele gets to hit some amazing high notes here. Also note the staging of this song, which features Michele and Menzel harmonizing around a piano ala “Poker Face” from season one’s “Theatricality” (in many ways “Unicorn” mirrors that episode). All in all, this is a solid performance from two Broadway luminaries.
BONUS: Phil Collins does… something… to this song on a 1996 tribute album to West Side.
I’m the Greatest Star (from Funny Girl)
Kurt (Chris Colfer) takes a different tactic auditioning for West Side Story by borrowing this song from a 1964 Streisand musical. That’s a typically Rachel move, and it illustrates the self-serving/annoying lengths to which Kurt will go to win West Side‘s lead part. It also provides a rare chance for Colfer’s singing to get really goofy. I liked the performance, although we’re supposed to think it’s at least a little bit jokey (spoiler: the musical’s directors think Kurt’s not manly enough to play Tony). I think it’s nice to see Colfer break out of the mega-dramatic stuff from time to time, and even though his plot in this episode’s quite serious, the song lets him have some fun.
BONUS: Not so much a cover, but Barbra Streisand was the first to leave a major mark on this song.
Something’s Coming (from West Side Story)
The episode’s final audition comes from Blaine (Darren Criss), who ends up intending to take only a minor part in West Side but impresses the show’s directors with his charisma, gusto and manliness. Surprisingly, I didn’t really like this performance as much as the other two (usually I’m a big Criss fan); it just seemed less enthusiastic than its competitors. On the other hand, Blaine/Criss probably does make the most sense in the role of the muscle-bound ex-thug Tony, even if his acceptance of the part causes a rift between himself and Kurt.
BONUS: Noted vocalist and Bond (theme) girl Shirley Bassey belts the song on a 1979 TV program… and comes off a bit like Maya Rudolph.
Tune in next Wednesday for another set of all-new Glee covers.