Jane Lynch should have a show on NPR.
After seeing her performance "See Jane Sing!" at the Virginia G. Piper Theatre at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, I felt like I saw the jazz equivalent of A Prairie Home Companion with one gay joke and some cussing thrown in. Maybe I witnessed a new creative direction for the Saturday morning quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me with a cabaret theme instead of a ribald panel answering questions about the news. When the lights went up, I couldn’t help but feel as though the 90-minute concert, which included contributions from actress Kate Flannery (who played the alcoholic accountant “Meredith” on The Office) and former Flagstaff resident and Glee’s vocal arranger Tim Davis, would have been better heard and not seen.
Lynch jokingly admitted she was going act like one of those television stars who holds an unsuspecting audience hostage with her musical indulgences. This is not to say that Lynch doesn’t have the right to do so. The Dolton, Illinois native has proven she is more than capable of knocking them dead. She was one of the polo shirt clad members of The New Main Street Singers in the hit Christopher Guest mockumentry A Mighty Wind. She played the diabolical cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester for six seasons on Glee and the evil Miss Hannigan on Broadway for the revival of Annie.
Lynch said when she was selecting the “obscure standards” that made up the setlist, people told her a theme would emerge. After looking at what she chose, she didn’t see an arc. When she took the stage to sing her take on “If Wishes Were Rainbows,” there was no immediacy to her set. This made the show just captivating enough to hold your attention driving on a Saturday afternoon, even with the risqué line “when the priest says touching yourself / will make angels go blind.” She would stand onstage and simply sing. There was no choreography or concert hall theatrics. There was nothing going on visually to add to the songs she was belting out.
For a Saturday night in Old Town, See Jane Sing! didn’t feel like something you were going to be raving to your friends at work Monday morning, despite the jazz musicians who make up The Tony Guerrero Quintet backing her up. The double entendre filled “Slapping The Cakes On Me” was something a tote-bag carrying public radio listener and jazz aficionado would appreciate, but not enough to compel you to call during pledge week.
My feelings could have something to do with my demographic. When Flannery took the stage to join Lynch for Irving Berlin’s “Mr. Monotony,” there were plenty of jokes about Scottsdale’s reputation as a retirement community (Flannery played the role of a dim-witted gold digger who nicknamed herself Ms. Valley Ho). Looking around the audience, I realized I was lowering the average age of the audience by a couple decades. If my tepid take on the proceedings have to do with my status as a young whippersnapper, I’m guilty as charged. Thankfully it didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy Lynch’s singing selections from A Mighty Wind like “Blood On The Coal” and “Skeletons of Quinto.”
The show gave some autobiographical insight into Lynch herself. She talked about harmonizing with her family around her Formica dining room table. She spoke about skipping school to watch The Dick Van Dyke show on WGN and sympathizing with the character Rose Marie. Perhaps she was exorcising some feelings about her 2013 divorce when she launched into her “Love Is Bullshit” sexist song medley, uncovering the obvious male slant of 50’s and 60’s music and, as Flannery described it, outing Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” as “a little rapey." It was a hilarious skit.
After the threesome wrapped things up with “The Party’s Over,” things got a little wild. Lynch, Flannery, and Davis launched into a “Songs That Make Us Cry” medley for the encore. It began with “Puff The Magic Dragon” (Flannery noted the underlying sexual tension in the children’s song) and took a left turn with “Roll Out The Barrel,” the song that makes Flannery, the daughter of bar owners, cry. Flannery started throwing tissues into the audience. Lynch even eked out an unexpected belch over her co-star’s antics. Things wrapped up with the singers parodying “White Rabbit” from The Real Live Brady Bunch. It was a captivating stage finale to great radio show.
What:See Jane Sing! at the Virginia G. Piper Theatre at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
The Crowd: According to Lynch and Flannery, retirees and snowbirds. More like adult children taking their snowbird parents for an evening out.
Overheard in the Crowd: “See? He has an iPhone,” said two women behind me, exposing my secret note taking device.
Personal Bias: I’m a huge fan of Lynch’s film and television work, but I wish the show was more like the encore. Should her new television project Angel From Hell, which was plugged, not work out, I think she should seriously consider a radio variety show. She could really give Garrison Keillor a run for his money.