Interview: Ana Gasteyer brings 'Sugar & Booze' to A COMPANY CELEBRATION AT POPS

Holiday concert set for December 13 at Boston's Symphony Hall

By: Dec. 08, 2023
Interview: Ana Gasteyer brings 'Sugar & Booze' to A COMPANY CELEBRATION AT POPS
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Interview: Ana Gasteyer brings 'Sugar & Booze' to A COMPANY CELEBRATION AT POPS

Ana Gasteyer’s hilarious impersonations of everyone from Martha Stewart, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Jane Fonda to music icons Madonna and Celine Dion, not to mention her memorable characters, such as middle-school music teacher Bobbie Moughlan-Culp, made her a break-out star during her six years on “Saturday Night Live.”

Broadway fans know Gasteyer from “Wicked,” where she played Elphaba, “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Threepenny Opera,” and “The Royal Family,” as well as two of Fox-TV’s live musicals, “A Christmas Story” and “Grease.” She also originated the role of Debra in David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Kimberly Akimbo” at Manhattan Theatre Club, starred as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” with the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, and earned a Jefferson Award nomination starring in “Passion” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. At City Center Encores, she played the role of Mimi in “A New Brain,” and at the Hollywood Bowl, she was Miss Hannigan in Annie” with the L.A. Philharmonic.

While roles in TV series like “American Auto,” “The Goldbergs,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Suburgatory,” and in feature films including “Mean Girls,” “What Women Want,” and “Wine Country,” have kept Gasteyer busy, she still makes time for musical theater.

And, as a singer/songwriter in her own right, the Washington, D.C., native released her first album, “I'm Hip,” in 2016. Her latest, 2019’s “Sugar & Booze,” is a collection of original and classic Christmas songs. The performer is now on the road with her “Sugar & Booze” holiday tour, which she’ll bring to “A Company Night at the Pops” at Boston’s Symphony Hall on December 13.

Gasteyer was at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., recently, packing for her tour, when she took a telephone call to discuss her holiday concerts and more.

Do you remember when you first discovered Christmas and what kinds of songs interested you at that time?

My first job of any kind was as a singer in the children’s chorus of a Washington National Opera production of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” so I’d have to say the first Christmas music that caught my attention was very traditional. My dad is a huge jazz fan, though, so we always had Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong playing in our house.

What made you decide to record “Sugar & Booze”?

I knew I wanted to do a Christmas album, because I’m known for being equal parts comedian and singer – I started out studying voice back in college at Northwestern in Chicago, but then I followed the improv route to Los Angeles and the Groundlings. I wanted to make a Christmas album to bring those two sides together and do something fun, creative, and collaborative.

Did your early experiences with holiday music play a role in your song selections for “Sugar & Booze”?

To a degree yes, but this album was really inspired by the Great American Songbook, which included so many great Jewish songwriters such as Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and the late-1950’s and early ’60s groove of people like Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra.

Who were your collaborators on this album?

Tedd Firth, my accompanist, and Billy Stritch did the arrangements, and Julian Fleisher produced the record. Tedd and I also co-wrote the ballad “Blue Back Friday.” The lyrics for that one came to me as I noodled around with it when Tedd and I were getting ready to go into the recording studio. It’s sad and very beautiful. I not only love it, I’m also very proud of it.

And, with Nicholas Williams, I also co-wrote the title song, which first came to me when I was in the shower. It has lots of horns and it’s sort of an excuse to have a party. It’s the way I see the whole album really, as something to listen to when you’re sitting at home, having a drink or some sweets, or maybe both.

Another cut comes from the Oscar-, Tony-, and Grammy Award-winning songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the score for “Dear Evan Hansen.” Tell me about their song, “In the Market for a Miracle,” that you do on this album?

They wrote “In the Market for a Miracle” for me to perform in their 2017 TV musical, “A Christmas Story Live!” I played Mrs. Schwartz, the Jewish next-door neighbor who sings about Chanukah with lyrics like “Raise it up for the Israelites, Give it up for eight crazy nights.” The orchestration was scaled down for the album so it has a more hip, swinging vibe. I’m so glad I was able to record the song and now get to perform it in concert.

How did you choose the album’s classic Christmas songs?

There are so very many, of course, so Tedd and I both listened to hundreds of Christmas songs to find the ones we wanted to record. “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Sleigh Ride,” are two of the most beautiful, and “The Merriest” is a frothy delight. We also chose “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” which isn’t really a Christmas song but a great gospel song that engages the boys in the band.

This tour is keeping you busy now, but would you like to return to Broadway in the future?

I definitely would, because more than any other form it allows for complete transformation. I don’t really work dramatically on television or in films, but I can do that on Broadway, because I’ve played Elphaba in “Wicked” and Fosca in “Passion.”

With everything going on in the world today, I would like to return to Broadway in a musical that sparks joy. I have a big voice and I love when I get to sing and tell jokes.

One final question: What do you suppose Bobbie Moughlan-Culp would think of the album?

I would hope she’d like it. She might even want to sing “Sugar & Booze,” but I imagine she’d also give me notes on my version.

Photo of Ana Gasteyer courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


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