Jane Lynch loves Christmas. Despite her image as snarky gym teacher Sue Sylvester, a role she played for six seasons in the hit TV series Glee, the actress says it’s the music that makes her reconnect to the holiday seasons of her youth.
“Christmas was a big deal for me growing up as a kid [in the suburbs of Chicago],” says the Emmy and Golden Globe winner, who also hosts NBC’s Hollywood Game Night. “We always started playing the music right after Thanksgiving.”
That’s why she jumped at the opportunity to put together a holiday show with music. The touring show Jane Lynch: A Swingin’ Little Christmas will play the Ridgefield Playhouse on Dec. 2. It was a natural since she and her musician pals last year put out a popular jazz-infused holiday album, which is available on iTunes and Amazon.
The show, which includes Kate Flannery of TV’s The Office, singer and Glee vocal arranger Tim Davis, and The Tony Guerrero Quintet, features some new holiday tunes but also takes some of the classics and adds the upbeat orchestrations of the sizzling band, she says. “It’s festive, fun and playful. It’s real old-school jazz with the three-part harmonies.”
The tour ends the week before Christmas and then it’s back to her extended family in Illinois. “Nobody does Christmas like Chicago.” (She confesses she only opens one present on Christmas Eve. “The rest wait till the morning.”)
And what does she want for Christmas?
“Nothing! I need nothing. And neither do you,” she says, laughing. “I just want everybody to be happy and for all of us to be one again. Let there be peace on Earth. Really.”
Color Him Purple
There are some shows that are fun to perform in and give an actor just starting out a chance to shine in escapist entertainment. And then there are those shows that mean so much more.
The latter is the case for the Ledyard-raised Kyle Baird, who is part of the ensemble for the tour of the musical The Color Purple, which comes to The Bushnell in Hartford Dec. 5-10.
“I saw one of my first musicals at the Bushnell,” Baird says during a break in rehearsals. “I saw Ain’t Misbehavin’ in the ’90s and I remember taking pictures with the cast after the show with one of those disposable cameras.”
Baird, who was also in Goodspeed’s Show Boat, says now being part of the acclaimed John Doyle-directed revival is a special experience for him. “I am both honored and humbled,” says Baird, whose professional role models include Brian Stokes Mitchell (a TV, film and stage veteran with a commanding baritone) and Denzel Washington. (“Denzel’s essence is so regal,” he says. “He sits there like a king.”)
“John Doyle’s work is perceived as minimalism because of his work staging shows like the Company and Sweeney Todd revivals, but it’s much more than that,” says Baird, who plays two characters, Buster and Bobby, in the Bushnell show. “John’s version of the story [based on Alice Walker’s novel] is clearer and cleaner because every moment is about Celie’s journey,” he says, referring to the show’s heroine.
“Yes, it’s from the standpoint of a downtrodden black female from the South, but it represents everyone’s struggle and that’s been an interesting takeaway from this. Celie’s journey is everybody’s journey.”
The Sound of Success
The Chosen, a coming-of-age story set in the 1940s, is now playing at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre through Dec. 17. Adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok from the novel by Potok, the show centers on two young friends from rival yeshivas — both with demanding fathers — who learn to question their place in a fast-changing world.
I asked one of the show’s stars, George Guidall, what makes an actor right to narrate audiobooks. Guidall should know. After all, his voice is the one you hear on more than 1,300 audiobooks. His narrations of classics such as Crime and Punishment, Frankenstein, The Iliad, Don Quixote and Les Miserables, along with many popular best-sellers, have set a standard for excellence recognized throughout the audiobook industry, winning three “Audies” for best audiobook narrations.
“Not every actor is cut out for narrating a book,” says Guidall, 79. “There are some fine actors who come to the mike and somehow don’t grasp the art of talking to somebody as much as they understand performing for people. There is no secret to it, other than to say it’s not just reading out loud.”
And the appeal of audiobooks?
“There’s a primal need to be told a story,” he says. “We are really wired for this, even before we knew how to read. It’s akin to people in a cave listening to a caveman telling of a hunt when they forgot about their troubles. You transport people in the telling to some other imagined world. I guess I’m a literary hermit crab, finding a home in someone else’s imagined truths.”
His most challenging assignment? “Don Quixote,” he says, which was also one of his favorite books to narrate.
And no, his golden throat is not insured, he says with a laugh. “It would be so phenomenally expensive,” he says. “I’ve been blessed with a steady instrument that has gotten deeper and a bit more gravelly as the years go on. But I do have a lot of cough drops.”
Have You Heard...?
… that Eric Ulloa’s 26 Pebbles, based on the interviews he did with members of the Newtown community following the shooting tragedy there, is now in print through Samuel French publishers. Several productions of his work played at theaters this year. Dec. 14 will mark the fifth anniversary of that terrible day.
… that Christopher Shinn, who grew up in Wethersfield, also is recently published, with two new books of his plays just out. There’s the release of his latest play\Against, which opened in London in August starring Ben Whishaw. The script is published by Bloomsbury Publishing. Then there’s his latest collection, Plays: 2, from Methuen Books, which includes On The Mountain\(which premiered at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California, in 2005), Now Or Later (which premiered at the Royal Court in London in 2008), Picked (which premiered at off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre in New York in 2011) and the Hartford-set play which launched his career 20 years ago, Four (which premiered at the Royal Court in 1998). The anthology also features an introduction by Shinn.
… that another Wethersfield playwright is in the news. Earlier this fall, Matthew Lombardo won his court case against Dr. Seuss Enterprises. A federal judge ruled that his play Who’s Holiday? is indeed a parody and can proceed without infringing on the rights of the estate of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The show — which originated as a 10-minute sketch as part of Hartford TheaterWorks’ holiday anthology Christmas on the Rocks — has been expanded to a 75-minute show and is now playing off-Broadway.
… that TheaterWorks’ holiday perennial Christmas on the Rocks might be missing Lombardo’s shortie but it has added a new piece to the run this season. A Miserable Life by Jacques Lamarre will be part of the theatrical anthology, which plays Nov. 28 to Dec. 23.