'Glee': From Mellencamp to Ethel Merman



Glee returned to television last month after a four-month hiatus, finally offering some answers to the questions that have been on fans' minds since December.

To help make sense of it all, we have a panel of musical theater buffs—Meghan Brown, Patrick Burns, and Jessica Reiner-Harris—to provide their takes on how realistic the show feels, how well the romances develop, and of course, how good the musical numbers are.

This week, they applaud the episode's show-stopping number, and the emotional character arc that inspired it:

Patrick Burns (writer, composer, and star of the original one-man-musical, From Foster Care to Fabulous): It's no easy feat to be a teenager and it can be hard to find your voice. Not only is this true, but it's a great theme for an episode of Glee. Watching the kids struggle with identities leads to the most exciting numbers we've seen all season: Puck's turn at Sammy Davis Jr. and Mercedes and Santana fighting over him, Brandy-and-Monica-style.

The evening's most moving story was Kurt's. He attempts to become the son he thinks his dad wants by hetero-dating and flannel-wearing, but nothing seems to work. When his frustration peaks, Kurt takes stage to sing "Rose's Turn". His performance is powerful, entertaining and inspires Kurt's dad to tell his son that he loves him the way he is. It just goes to show that sometimes a young gay has to experiment with Mellencamp to end up at Merman.

Meghan Brown (co-founder of the Giraffe Hunt Theater in Los Angeles): Kurt singing "Rose's Turn" is probably the best thing that has ever happened on Glee. Or, perhaps, ever. Blurring the line between fantasy and reality, Kurt moves from an angry high school kid to a headliner in the span of about two minutes, showing an emotional range that's previously only been hinted at.

The song starts out from a true emotional place and gives great insight to the character (unlike the majority of the episode's other songs). The musical theater elements blend seamlessly into a powerhouse performance where Kurt transcends his feelings of anger and insecurity and taps into his own unique power.

The best part was that it all made sense. Of course Kurt would respond to being emotionally injured by singing a Broadway show-stopper under his breath in the hallway. Of course he would find his way to the auditorium and belt his guts out until he felt better. Of course, in the end, he would give up the flannel and the Mellencamp for his true, Ethel Merman-loving self.

Glee is at its best when it trusts its characters. This was a perfect example of letting the character dictate the action, and it paid off in spades.

Jessica Reiner-Harris (member of the touring improv comedy troupe The Striking Viking Story Pirates): It has become Glee's routine to move a story along in a quick and silly way just so a specific song can be incorporated. Puck's almost identical "new" haircut inexplicably made him a pariah, sending him into the arms of—a blatant contrivance so that Santana and Mercedes could sing "The Boy is Mine."

Another clear example tonight was the discovery that Jonathan Groff's character was named Jesse, allowing Finn to sing "Jesse's Girl." I wonder how long the writer's have been smacking their lips, waiting to show us that gem from the 80's. Even the very heartfelt addition of the singing football player who injected perspective into Rachel's self absorption, smelled of an after school special, because he was a one-time add-in and not an organic extension of what had already been established in the show. The show is written based on songs the writers want to use, not by actual character development and relationship development.

There is however, one storyline exception. By far the most touching part of the episode tonight was Kurt's attempt to win back his father's affection by masculinizing himself, culminating in his amazing and honest performance of "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy. His song was so perfectly chosen and performed. Kurt's storyline is based in his emotions, his family, his needs. It doesn't reek of contrivance like the other storylines and song choices do. I hope the storylines and character developments follow in Kurt's footsteps.

Past Glee panels:

'Glee': 'Run, Joey, Run' Moves Things Forward

'Glee': Two Great Songs and One Ridiculous Plot Twist

'Glee': How Much Madonna is Too Much Madonna?

'Glee': 3 Expert Takes on the Show's Return