Most people know her as Coach Sue Sylvester on TV’s Glee, or from her work in Christopher Guest movies such as A Mighty Wind and Best in Show. Yet Jane Lynch got her professional start on the stage and has returned to live performing with her new See Jane Sing tour, which swings through town March 28 at the Atlanta Symphony Hall. It’s a made-to-order musical comedy evening for the Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner.
As her six-year run on Glee came to an end — the series finale aired last week — Lynch realized she would have time to do this. Doing a Broadway musical and subsequent cabaret performance a few years back in New York helped escalate the process.
“I played Annie on Broadway about two summers ago,” she says. “54 Below — a cabaret space in New York City — then offered me four nights and said I could do my cabaret show. I said I don’t have a cabaret show but I will create one. I committed to four nights and set out creating a show. I loved it so much that we took it on the road.”
The tour started earlier this month and she’s having a blast. “It’s so much fun,” she says. “It’s the fastest hour I’ve ever lived. I’m up there with my friend Kate Flannery (from NBC’s The Office) who does some songs with me and my friend, Tim Davis, who is a wonderful crooner. I have a five-piece band to die for — the Tony Guerrero Quintet. I am blessed they want to go on the road with me.”
As she started piecing her act together, she was open to musical suggestions. Her friend Brad Ellis, the piano player from Glee, proposed two numbers she works in — “Mr. Monotony,” an Irving Berlin song she performed on Glee, and Dave Frishberg’s “Slappin’ the Cake on Me.”
Other numbers slowly came to her. “If I hear a song, and I have a take on it, that is usually when my interest is piqued and I will investigate it further,” she admits. Included in the mix are Broadway tunes, cabaret numbers and songs she remembers from her youth. “We don’t do anything straightforward,” she says. “We always have something a little different — and hopefully I am also doing hilarious patter.”
Early in her career, Lynch performed regularly at Chicago’s Second City and Steppenwolf Theatre, but the invite to play Miss Hannigan in Annie came at a time when stage work was almost a distant memory.
“I had not been onstage in a couple of decades, at least in a play,” she says. “I got my start doing that, plays and sketch comedy way before I did movies and TV. I did not think I would want to go back; I didn’t have the hankering. I was offered Miss Hannigan and it re-awaked that urge. I loved being onstage, putting on my own makeup, being part of an ensemble. I love theater people, theater hours, New York City.”
Although she has filmed two movies in Atlanta, The Three Stooges and A.C.O.D, Lynch has never performed here and is looking forward to the Symphony Hall performance.
“It’s an elite place to perform,” she says. “I look forward to spending 24 hours there.” Getting ready for the gig will take up most of her time in Atlanta, but she does look forward to getting out for at least a meal somewhere in the city.
Glee wrapped in February and marked the end of the actress’ most visible role. “It was very emotional,” she says. “When we weren’t bursting into tears, we were laughing our asses off. It was heightened emotionally. The last three days hit us. The third to last day, we had pretty much every guest star we’ve ever had on Glee show up and we all did a number together.”
Her wise-cracking Sue Sylvester was not her creation. Although she could occasionally embellish the character, the role was carefully scripted by writer Ian Brennan.
She thinks the series was not only unlike anything else on TV, but helped re-invigorate musical theater. “One of the great things, why kids and adults loved it so much, was that it was a place you could go, where everyone supports you, has your back and celebrates people for who they are,” she says. “You don’t have to hide anything. You also get to raise your voice to song and make joyful noise. From what I hear, lots of kids are auditioning for musicals these days. Being a musical theater geek has come out of the closet as a cool thing.”
Lynch will be continuing her tour into 2016 and keeping her eyes open for TV and movie work. Although Christopher Guest hasn’t made a movie in a while, Lynch would be open for another of his ensemble comedies. “If there is something going on and I’m invited, I will be there in a second,” she says.