BWW Reviews: The 'L' Word is 'Laughter' During JANE LYNCH's Gleeful, Quirky Debut Cabaret Show at 54 Below
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
In the TV musical comedy-drama, Glee, the award-winning actress Jane Lynch plays the deliciously evil high school cheerleading coach-turned-principal Sue Sylvester, who is constantly trying to sabotage the efforts of the school's glee club to compete in singing competitions or even exist. It's a good thing nobody tried to prevent Lynch from taking a real-life crack at nightclub singing, as her debut show this past week at 54 Below (the last show is tonight at 8pm) was a delightful breath of cabaret fresh air.
In a fast-paced (if a tad short) show that clocked in at about the length of a Glee episode minus the commercials, the celebrated comic actress served up a frothy bit of fun during a set that consisted mostly of up-tempo novelty songs from different eras. If Lynch was apprehensive about doing her first cabaret show, this consummate pro didn't show it. She actually seemed to revel in checking off another line on her entertainment career bucket list, while playfully tweaking the art form at the same time. "There's a notion that cabaret is just an excuse for a self-involved actor to hold an audience hostage for an hour, singing songs they have no business singing and telling anecdotes from their unremarkable lives," deadpanned the blonde, statuesque Lynch. "That always seemed like something I'd like to do."
Lynch is nothing if not a fearless hard-worker, but she's also smart and with her Musical Director Todd Ellison (solid at the piano, with Maryanne McSweeney on bass and Ryan McDaniel on drums), she constructed a show that played to her comic and vocal strengths and that didn't require her to push her alto to mezzo voice into power ballad territory. She'd already displayed a nice set of pipes during various episodes of Glee (her take on Madonna's "Vogue" was an absolute hoot), and in her turn last year as the evil orphanage matron "Miss Hannigan" in Annie (Her song in the musical, "Little Girls" serves as a second encore in the 54 Below show.), so this wasn't too much of a stretch. She also had a solid support system for Wednesday's opening night, featuring three special guests--her Glee co-star Matthew Morrison, Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson, and her good friend, Kate Flannery from The Office. Flannery stuck around for the Thursday night show I attended and the women displayed a nice comedic and musical chemistry on an eclectic mix of songs, including Irving Berlin's "Mr. Monotony" (a 1940s big-band sounding number, sung by Judy Garland, and unfortunately cut, from the 1948 film, Easter Parade). Lynch and Flannery's nice harmonies on the song certainly weren't monotonous.
One of the delightful surprises of the night came early in the show when Lynch and Flannery channeled the Yiddish singing Barry Sisters on a swinging, up-tempo, let's-do-the-horah arrangement of "Far From the Home I Love," from Fiddler on the Roof. Later, during Carson Parks' Frank and Nancy Sinatra hit, "Something Stupid" (which Lynch related she used to harmonize on with her father--"It was weird"), Lynch and Flannery avoided looking at each other, lest the audience think they were having a "thing." After the duo produced a lovely harmony on the finale, "The Party's Over," Lynch absolutely broke up the room with her encore, a tribute to the recently deceased Ann B. Davis, who played the housekeeper, "Alice," on the early 1970s TV comedy, The Brady Bunch. Lynch delivered a parody of the 1967 Jefferson Airplane classic, "White Rabbit," which was first introduced when Lynch appeared as Mom Carol Brady in the cast of the early '90s off-Broadway musical, The Real Live Brady Bunch. For this version, Jane tweaked the lyrics once again to hilariously honor Davis, ending the song with "Remember what Alice said . . . Make your bed . . . Make your bed." Now that was a trip.