After two weeks of tribute shows, this week’s episode of Glee was thankfully unencumbered by retrofitted catalog songs, and it was refreshing to hear the nice balance of Broadway and pop songs that director Michael Uppendahl smoothly juggled amid the three story threads that writer Marti Noxon had concisely weaved.
The storyline we’d been expecting was the NYADA audition, for which Rachel (Lea Michele) and Kurt (Chris Colfer) had been preparing for the past seven weeks. Of course, Rachel was born to be Fanny Brice, so she spent most of her time fine tuning her affirmations rather than rehearsing. Kurt however was torn, preparing lavish presentations of both “Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera (his safe choice) and “Not the Boy Next Door” from The Boy from Oz (his risky choice).
When Kurt learns the audition judge is NYADA school dean Carmen Tibideuax (Whoopi Goldberg), he goes with his gut to take the risk and nails the performance. Rachel though chokes under the pressure and blanks on the lyrics to her signature song, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl. I didn’t see that coming, and it was nicely handled by Michele, who later gave a gut-wrenching cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “Cry,” one of the episode’s and the season’s highlights.
Another expected storyline was Puck’s (Mark Salling) struggles to graduate, which he tried to ignore with a kinetic but bland cover of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” What was unexpected was the appearance of his father (Thomas Calabro), which gave Puck the 11th-hour incentive to study. The cramming session provided the lead-in to a punk version of “The Rain in Spain” from My Fair Lady, a surprising and fun choice that was given an overlong and repetitive performance.
Completely out of left field was the storyline about domestic abuse. Roz (NeNe Leakes) happens to overhear the girls – Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Santana (Naya Rivera), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Brittany (Heather Morris), and Sugar (Vanessa Lengies) – speculating about Coach Beiste’s (Dot-Marie Jones) black eye. Roz reports them to Sue (Jane Lynch), who gives them a musical assignment as detention. The girls first choose the inappropriate, though well performed, “Cellblock Tango” from Chicago. Their second and more appropriate choice, Florence Welch’s “Shake It Out,” provided another episode and season standout.