After years of thwarting the singing kids on Glee, Jane Lynch takes the stage to belt some tunes herself
Remember the bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the gruff king is telling his son about the castle and kingdom that will all be his someday, only to have the pale, stringy-haired lad respond that he doesn't want any of that, he'd rather just ... sing? Turns out that pallid prince has something in common with Jane Lynch. The Illinois native racks up film and TV credits as handily as she does laughs – dozens of movies, including all those mockumentaries for Christopher Guest (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration); voice work in films like Wreck-It Ralph and Rio; scores of small-screen appearances, with recurring roles on Two and a Half Men and The L Word; hosting Hollywood Game Night; of course, her Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning turn as Coach Sue Sylvester in Glee; and, though that series only just wrapped, a pilot for CBS on the horizon, Angel From Hell. But despite all that, what really gets Lynch going these days is singing, and it's why she's in Austin this week. She's touring the country with a cabaret act that she developed while playing Miss Hannigan in the 2013 Broadway revival of Annie. By phone, Lynch told the Chronicle just why singing is what matters to her most.
Austin Chronicle: What brought this about? Did you not scratch that itch of being onstage when you did Miss Hannigan on Broadway? Or did that make it itch even more?
Jane Lynch: It made it itch even more. That's exactly what happened. I'd done Annie, and I hadn't been onstage in quite some time, and the people at 54 Below offered me four nights for my cabaret show. And I said, "Well, I don't have one. But I will get one." And I gave myself a couple of months, and I came up with this show, and I had so much fun that I decided this is the thing I want to do for a while. So we're done with Glee now, and we're kicking off a tour. And I'm just having the best time. I love it, I love it, I love it!
AC: Now, this is not your mother's cabaret – or your Stephen Holden-approved Manhattan cabaret. How did you choose these songs?
JL: I basically chose songs that I love that ... well, I don't like them because they're obscure, but they're songs that I've stumbled across that I think are fantastic. I'm doing a Dave Frishberg song, "Slappin' the Cakes on Me," which is sweet and funny and very jazzy. I do "Mr. Monotony," an obscure Irving Berlin song that Judy Garland once did on her television show. My friend Kate Flannery, who played Meredith on The Office, sings back-up and we do "Far From the Home I Love" from Fiddler on the Roof in a very jazzy, Borscht-Belt arrangement. The show doesn't really build to a theme, but it's a lot of fun, and Kate is hilarious, and we have an incredible band, the Tony Guerrero Quintet, who will just blow you away with their musicianship. And I think I do a pretty damn good job myself.
AC: Are you still doing numbers from A Mighty Wind?
JL: I am, but I'm not doing my numbers. I'm doing two numbers by the Folksmen.
AC: You basically stole those out from under the Folksmen.
JL: I did. I stole them out from underneath them, and I got their permission to do so. [Laughs.]
AC: Was there something about these songs that made you want to perform them live?
JL: Yes. The musicianship, first of all. They are very good songs, and the arrangements are fabulous. Chris [Guest] and Michael [McKean] and Harry [Shearer] are wonderful musicians and great songwriters, but the lyrics are – like this one song is about a train wreck in a coal mine, which is hilarious to me, and the song is beautiful but also ridiculous. Also I do "The Skeletons of Quinto," which is a song about the Spanish Civil War. It's a beautiful, beautiful song, and then you listen to the lyrics, and it's like, What?
AC: Did you have any connection to folk music before A Mighty Wind?
JL: Yeah, well, growing up I knew Peter, Paul, and Mary very well. I discovered folk music later in life, starting with my discovery of Joni Mitchell – and I know Joni Mitchell would never call herself a folk singer – but starting with that and going through to Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and going back in time to Peter, Paul, and Mary and Woody Guthrie – that's my favorite stuff. It's what I listen to when I turn on music, it's probably my favorite genre. I love that simple, beautiful, well-arranged American music.
AC: Has your time on Glee changed the way you approach singing at all? Here's a show that's so much about celebrating singing and getting young people to come to themselves as people through singing.
JL: Absolutely. I didn't sing every week, by a long shot, on Glee, but it taught me to come to my own self through the music that's in me. I had never thought before – I know I love music, and I used to do little cabarets here and there when I was treading the boards. But this taught me to just step up and do it. Just step up and do it, which is kind of what I've been doing my whole career. I reach these points where I can continue on the same paths and do the same thing over and over again or I can dive into a different pool in the deep end. And that's what I've done with this. Now all I want to do is this show. I have stuff on the periphery, percolating, that may be my next move television-wise, but mostly I'm just focusing on this.
See Jane Sing! plays Friday, March 6, 8pm, at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress. For more information, visit www.austintheatre.org.