McKinley High School’s production of West Side Story takes center stage in an episode that explores young love and teenage sex when an aside by Artie (Kevin McHale) sends the play’s two stars, Rachel (Lea Michele) and Blaine (Darren Criss), into a tizzy about whether or not they have the carnal experience necessary for their roles. However, Rachel making her decision to lose her virginity based solely on her stage career and Blaine’s attraction to a charming Warbler (Grant Gustin) lead to complications over the course of the episode.
What follows is an entire episode of fits and starts as both characters try to find their feet and discuss the situation with their partners (or attempt to just get down to business). The antics are fun, but it’s only when the episode slows down and has an honest discussion about the situation that it finds some real emotion. What starts as as a neutered network sex romp actual evolves into an well-thought-out story of several of these characters taking their first real steps towards adulthood.
The episode is framed around the final practices and opening night performance of West Side Story which bleeds into both character’s decisions. Some of these sequences work better than others, but I like the attempt to try and tie the entire episode together this way.
The two aren’t the only ones searching for love. The only adult who gets any real screen time is Coach Beist (Dot Jones) whose attraction for an Ohio State football scout (Max Adler) doesn’t go unnoticed. Much like the kids’ storylines, when it stops being cute and actually gets honest with the situation it provides a really nice moment.
Although much of the story is centered around sex (and to a lesser extent love), it’s Artie who has grown into his role as director, who steals the show’s best non-musical moment in an emotional thank you to the cast and crew for trusting him and helping him put on the play. Here’s another character who is given the chance to grow over the course of the episode. Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) also faces his greatest fear and decides to stand up for what he believes in, no matter what it might cost him personally.
The musical numbers include an impressive version of “America” led by Santana (Naya Rivera), “One Hand, One Heart” and “Tonight” by Rachel and Blaine, “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love” by Rachel and Santana, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Kurt and Blaine, and the Warblers make an appearance to perform Billy Joel‘s “Uptown Girl.”
In an episode that keeps most of the adult appearances to cameos and centers around the maturing of a handful of students the show finds some genuine moments of both happiness and disappointment. The musical numbers work quite well (I’d be willing to watch the play performed by this cast) and even if the Warbler’s rendition of “Uptown Girl” felt a little too much like a music video I’ll admit it brought a smile to my face.