Jane Lynch: See Jane Sing!
The Glee star brings her beefed-up cabaret act to Joe's Pub.
Jane Lynch is back in town. Best known for her portrayal of Sue Sylvester on the hit Fox television show Glee, she's been performing to smaller audiences around the country with her cabaret act, See Jane Sing!, which has recently landed at Joe's Pub. With a new band of musicians at her back and a second special guest star, Lynch is better than ever in this augmented version of her recent cabaret debut.
That show at 54 Below was a relatively thin broth at 50 minutes and felt more like an excuse to see a TV star up close than an honest stab at cabaret. This new and improved act is much heartier, even if it does take a while to get there.
Wisely, the evening begins with a warmup from The Tony Guerrero Quintet. Trumpeter Guerrero sings "When You're Smiling" with an uncanny vocal imitation of Louis Armstrong. Frequent Glee arranger Tim Davis takes the second number. Hair slicked back and clad in a burgundy dinner jacket, he sings "Come Fly With Me," giving it some Glee-style garish glory notes. Considering how good he sounds singing them, however, he can be forgiven this American Idol treatment of a Cahn-Van Heusen classic.
Then Lynch enters. Disappointingly, the first half of her set is almost a carbon copy of her 54 Below show, with the same songs and verbatim jokes. Kate Flannery joins her for all the same numbers. They mug around like precocious children who have recently discovered cabaret and have decided to put on their own act for an adoring mom and dad. The breathy phrasing, the self-important audience banter, the feigned onstage relationships: Every cabaret cliché is a target. In addition to being an allusion to a popular series of children's books, even the title (the notion that you should "see" rather than "hear" a performer sing) feels like a swipe at the absurdities of the form.
But one can only hold cabaret at an ironically safe distance for so long. In Lynch's case, it has been over a year since she made her cabaret debut. Lynch and Flannery's musicality has vastly improved since. With the addition of Davis (who returns for the show's latter half), their harmonies are really on point. Lynch's new five-man band of consummate musicians makes it indisputable: These guys have more business being on a cabaret stage than a lot of the performers currently working in New York.
The second half seems to be an acknowledgement of that. With the backing vocals of Davis and Flannery, Lynch sings a medley of popular love songs including "It All Depends on You," in which she criticizes the emotional immaturity of making one's happiness dependent on one other person...forever. "It's bullsh*t," she flatly states. She transitions into "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" by Neil Diamond. "Kind of rapey, isn't it?" she observes during the interlude. Everything is technically proficient and well-executed, in addition to being hilarious and insightful.
Her performance of "The Songs That Made Us Cry as Kids Medley" is equally thrilling. It is a cavalcade of maudlin lyrics and emotionally manipulative chord progressions, guaranteed to make you just a little bit verklempt even as you're acutely aware of how you're being played. This is the kind of cabaret in which Lynch really soars. One hopes to hear her do more in the future.