As Jane Lynch said to start the evening, you have certain expectations when you hear a comedic actress like her is doing a cabaret show. You expect it to be an excuse of the ego, uptight, and painful for all involved.
I am happy to say, with zero reservations, that Jane Lynch's cabaret show See Jane Sing at Lyric Opera of Chicago not only dashed those dreaded expectations but redefined what is possible within the span of an hour-and-a-half performance.
Lynch, along with sidekicks Tim Davis (TV's Glee) and Kate Flannery (The Office), turned out a performance that can only be described as a tour-de-force. Lynch grew up on the south side of Chicago, in Dalton, and this is a textbook case of "Hometown girl does good." You can feel the warmth she still holds for her homeland and, though I'm sure each performance she does in cities around the country is exemplary, this one held particular significance for her.
The backing musicians, The Tony Guerrero Quintet, provided a cement-like foundation that allowed the vocalists to strut their stuff. These five musicians, which consisted of piano, drums, bass, and various brass and woodwinds, established themselves as fine comedians as well as impeccable musicians. Each musician also played multiple instruments, which ranged from guitar to flute, knew their craft and performed a series of warm-up songs that included a blistering medley from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.
Vocalist Davis was next on stage, trotting out that "oldie but a goodie" song that was made famous by Ol' Blue Eyes himself, "Fly me to the moon." Davis' has a very flexible instrument and his word inflection provided a sumptuous contrast to the fire the quartet provided. Having been present during all 800 songs recorded for Glee, his chops are well-honed and breathtaking. Harmonizing with Lynch and Flannery, he provided a firm base for the two women to jazz over.
Lynch herself took the stage by force after Davis, bringing the audience to their feet upon her arrival and into the back of their seats with laughter almost immediately after. Lynch, who is 55 and doesn't look a day over 40, showcased a voice that, while rough around the edges, is beautiful at its core. The thing that surprised me most was how supple and malleable her voice was, especially for someone relatively untrained in singing. Octave jumps and belted codas hold no fear for her and her timing, as is to be expected of a veteran comedienne, is spot-on. Whether she's singing sappy love songs from the 60's or making us double over with laughter singing songs from Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind, she commands the stage like the divas of yore, with merely a flick of the wrist to send the commoners to their knees.
The real surprise of the evening was Kate Flannery. Never having been a fan of The Office myself, I was blown away by the spunk, tenacity, and joie de vivre she was able to generate with just a smile. She played the role of awkward sidekick to a T, often being chastised by Lynch like a nun rapping a schoolgirl on the knuckles. Flannery's voice is a powerhouse, simultaneously able to belt and lilt with creamy lightness. She also played the role of ambassador to the audience, urging us to clap, snap our fingers, take out our phone flashlights, and generally enjoy physically in the revelry in any way we wanted. Her voice is tailor-made for harmony, being able to take the lead and fade into the background, as needed. If I could fault her on one thing, and I'm stretching even at this, her galavanting took away from some of the show's more poignant moments, but it's a minuscule quibble at best.
The songs were as eclectic as the clientele, which included young Glee fans and starchy society matrons (cmon, we're still in the Lyric Opera building, people!) Speaking of The Lyric Opera setting, being seated on the stage, facing the gorgeous auditorium where I cried during Handel's Giulio Cesare and laughed during Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado, was akin to a Catholic sitting on the altar of The Vatican. The younger crowd was doubled over in laughter during a rendition of Nicky Minaj's infamous rap delight "Anaconda, while the blue bloods were comforted by honestly-sung old standards like Willie Nelson's "The Party's Over."
I could go on with superlatives for days, weeks, months, and millennia, but I shall end now before I sound like a sycophantic salesman.
Lynch and her merry band of minstrels have proven that you should never expect someone to stay neatly in the little box that we've experienced them in.
See Jane Sing is a masterclass in turning an audience upside down with sheer joy and slapping them on the ass for having doubted.