Expecting perfection from 'Glee'? Dream on
This week's "Glee" episode, "Dream On," was a potluck dinner of styles and performances. The good (Idina Menzel, for starters) was exceptionally good, and the bad was, well, terrible.
Matthew Morrison (Will Schuester) and guest star Neil Patrick Harris (Bryan Ryan) took the reins on the first two numbers: "Piano Man" by Billy Joel, and Aerosmith's "Dream On." The opener, "Piano Man" was fun and relaxed. Wouldn't it be nice if every drunken bar singer sounded like that?
"Dream On" started off perfectly. Morrison embodied the style of the song with a coolness that might just rival Steve Tyler himself. He never sounds like he's trying too hard, and doesn't fall into the trap of over-singing like so many others. I totally dig his airy quality, and his phrasings are genius. Harris' entrance fell right in line with expectations, and I was actually surprised at how similar the two sounded at first.
Then, without warning, Harris killed the song. The lead-in to the chorus ("you know it's true") was the most ear-wrenching noise I've ever heard. He morphed through three vowels during the word "true" alone, and then ended the note with some sort of pant that was anything but rocking. The chorus was much better; in fact, Harris has a rather nice falsetto. He should probably just stick to that. On a happier note, I thought the band was stellar, and did a great job of driving the song's intensity.
"Safety Dance" (originally by the 1980s band Men Without Hats) was sung by Kevin McHale (Artie), backed up by the rest of the cast. The choreography was fun, albeit a tad chaotic, and the camera work was a welcomed break from the norm. The vocals weren't anything to write home about, but they were certainly good enough to carry the song. My only complaint with the dancing: Steps that intentionally grab your attention (like the slow-mo running) should be together. In large group numbers, synchronization is 80 percent of the battle.
The next number, "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Miserables, was a stunning duet performed by Idina Menzel (Shelby Corcoran) and Lea Michelle (Rachel Berry). This was an ideal pairing of wicked-great vocalists, and was by far the best number in the episode. Every single vowel matched flawlessly, and the cut-offs were precise and subtle. The most impressive aspect was how they both crescendo (at the same rate!) through tough vowels, pushing through to perfection. That's not a direction you read on a score, its something a singer either does or doesn't do innately. And both of these ladies did it without flinching. You know, the more I think about it, this may be the most impressive performance we've seen on "Glee" ... ever. It just doesn't get any better than this. Seriously. I'm going to watch it again now.
"Dream A Little Dream" (first recorded in the 1930s by Ozzie Nelson) had the unfortunate task of following the vocal master class that was "I Dreamed a Dream." Performed by Kevin McHale (Artie), Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina), and Harry Shum Jr. (Mike), this was a laid back number, featuring McHale on vocals. The singing was again pleasant, but not a showstopper. I think Shum is arguably the best dancer in the cast and always a standout during group numbers. I don't know if tap just isn't his thing, or if he had an off night, but the dancing was terrible. Tap is my favorite genre to teach and perform, and this beginner routine was nothing short of sloppy. I don't think the taps were together at any point, and did anyone else notice the arms? Not an ounce of energy was moving through the fingertips, and the grasping motion was highly distracting, not to mention stylistically taboo. If the choreography requires you to tap in unison, then all four feet need to be locked in to the rhythm with little room for error. After all, not only do you see the steps, but you also hear them. I will say, however, that I'm glad the show is branching out into new styles of dance. It's exciting to see, and could be a great thing for the series -- with a little more practice. ;)
I suppose I'm hoping for a little more consistency in the future. I want every number to be of the same calibre as "I Dreamed a Dream. And with such an amazingly talented cast, it shouldn't be that hard to do.
Blair Baldwin knows a thing or two about glee clubs or, to be precise, a cappella ensembles. Besides being a full-fledged Gleek, she was director, principal arranger and a soloist with the Sapphires, the women's a cappella group at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Blair has studied music and dance since she could reach a piano keyboard en pointe (OK, that's an exaggeration). Today she's pursuing a degree in arts, media and entertainment management, teaching dance and writing songs destined to be performed by New Directions.