Jane Lynch rocks The Kate with clever cabaret act
Folks, do yourself a favor. When they announce exactly when the Jane Lynch episode of "The Kate" TV series will air in early 2017, set your DVR.
What will air is the recorded version of Lynch's Tuesday concert at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook. And, man, was that show a lot of fun. It bubbled with sparkling energy, inspired humor and satisfying music.
"See Jane Sing" is the name of the cabaret act, and Lynch — that Sue Sylvesterian comedy slayer in "Glee" and that improv genius in Christopher Guest films — brought all her inimitable droll humor to the proceedings. Even better, she possesses a singing voice that can go pure and clear or can slip into sonic character.
The humor, you'd expect from her. The singing ability that melds personality and range? That might be more of a surprise. But Lynch's vocals go back a ways; she recalled how, when she was a kid, her family used to sit around their Formica kitchen table and harmonize. She brought that harmonizing finesse to "See Jane Sing," too, with her sterling supporting players: Kate Flannery, who played boozy Meredith on "The Office" and provided a fine foil here, all perky enthusiasm; and Tim Davis, who was the vocal arranger for "Glee" and who had a supple voice and a smooth-operator presence. Lynch, Flannery and David sounded like silvery perfection when going a cappella.
And, when not going a cappella, they got terrific support from their band, the Tony Guerrero Quintet.
There was no neatly organized theme for "See Jane Sing." Instead, Lynch invited the audience on a musical journey through a world of songs that, she noted, had little to do with each other. To wit: The night zigged and zagged from Irving Berlin to Nicki Minaj.
It was the Minaj cover — a mock-serious version of "Anaconda" in which Lynch, Flanner and Davis rapped in a wondrously uptight way — that earned a standing ovation from the crowd.
If that was the highlight, two medleys vied for second place. One found Lynch performing tunes that made each person onstage cry when they were kids. Yes, we're talking "Seasons in the Sun," "Shannon" and, rather inexplicably, "Puff the Magic Dragon." (Go figure, but Lynch found "Puff" sad when she was a child.) The whole combo was priceless.
The other medley, which spun off Lynch's memory of worrying about single gal Rose Marie having no one to go home to at night on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," gathered tunes from the 1960s and '70s that boasted lovelorn lyrics that didn't exactly encourage independence in women ("I Won't Last a Day Without You," "At Seventeen"). Lynch amusingly played up the woebegone words, before Flannery reminded her that this was a different time, and they dove happily into "I'll Plant My Own Tree."
The show grew funnier as the set list progressed, although, while two songs from the movie "A Mighty Wind" sounded lovely, the comedy didn't land.
This was my first time attending a Katharine Hepburn Center show that was being filmed for "The Kate" TV series. Here's my advice: If you're thinking of going to a future gig, do it. (The next one up is Maurice Hines on July 26.) The cameras were relatively unobtrusive. For the most part, they shot the show as is, not stopping for retakes, so it didn't interfere with the performance's momentum. On occasion, though, Lynch did quickly repeat a line or two to nail them down the way she wanted. And, once the entire production closed, Lynch and company came back onstage to redo one entire song, one intro, and the last bit of another tune. It was all done quickly.
If you see cutaways for audience reaction during "The Kate," think about this: the crew filmed theatergoers as they were put through their paces — before things began. We were asked to applaud politely for 30 seconds. And applaud with medium enthusiasm for 30 seconds. And applaud with holy-cow-I'm-loving-this fervor (well, that's my description) for 30 seconds. And laugh for 10 seconds.
They could have filmed our guffawing and clapping and whooping it up during the actual show since that's what much of the audience was doing, but they presumably wanted to have their cameras focused solely on the performers at that point. Hey, that doesn't detract from the fun we were having.
One more thing: The second season of "The Kate" featuring "See Jane Sing" is scheduled to start airing in February. It airs nationally but will be shown here on CPTV at 10 p.m. Fridays. Consider it something to look forward to this winter.
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Erin Sousa-Stanley directs the piece, and her husband, Chris Stanley, is the music director.