The series finale of “Glee” doesn’t air until Friday, but Jane Lynch (a.k.a. Sue Sylvester) is already well into her next career move — cabaret star. And her first post-“Glee” gig is at the Birchmere, where she’ll perform her original song, dance and banter show, “See Jane Sing,” on March 24 and 25.
“This cabaret is more of an outgrowth of my sketch comedy days, working with Second City and the Annoyance Theatre,” Lynch said, referring to the two Chicago troupes. In the early 1990s, Lynch was one of the Annoyance actors who brought the group’s “Brady Brunch” reenactments to Los Angeles, but she opted not to return to Chicago. Or to the stage.
“I started doing television and film,” said Lynch, who also performed with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. “I didn’t think I’d go back to theater; I just didn’t have the hankering for it.”
But then, for two months during her 2013 hiatus from “Glee,” Lynch traded her Sue Sylvester polyester tracksuits for the gaudy flowered frocks of Miss Hannigan in the Broadway revival of “Annie.”
“I had the best time, and I got the bite all over again, and I wanted to be onstage,” she said.
Lynch got the opportunity a year later, when the producers of New York’s famed 54 Below club called to offer her four nights. Did she have a cabaret show ready to go?
“I said, ‘I don’t have one, but I will get one,’ ” Lynch said.
Lucky for her, she had “Glee” colleague Matthew Morrison around for moral support and the backstage creatives from the show ready to arrange her music. She also recruited fellow Second City graduate Kate Flannery, best known as Meredith on “The Office,” to hit the road and sing along on several numbers, including a Borscht Belt jazz rendition of the “Fiddler on the Roof” ballad “Far From the Home I Love.” Other selections include Dave Frishberg’s “Slappin’ the Cakes on Me,” faux-folk tunes from the Christopher Guest movie “A Mighty Wind” and what Lynch describes as “songs I used to sing at the kitchen table with my parents, who were wonderful harmonizers.”
To warm up for the spring tour, Lynch was grateful that Sue Sylvester finally got a few more chances to sing on “Glee.” She aced Judy Garland’s “The Trolley Song” from “Meet Me in St. Louis” with help from guest star Carol Burnett, and that same episode she also rocked out to “The Final Countdown.”
“I feel like my voice is in the best shape it’s ever been,” said Lynch, who then asked that that line not be printed because there are people who will think, “Really? It’s not that good.”
“See Jane Sing” has been booked at venues across the country, but unlike Sue Sylvester — whose reign over McKinley High School was so often terror-filled — Lynch expects to easily relinquish the running of her own show.
“I certainly wouldn’t mind doing another play, even a straight play,” she said. “A musical, of course, would be wonderful, too. I’d love to go back to the theater for an appreciable amount of time.”
She continued: “But I don’t anticipate anything. I have done so well by just saying yes to what’s come in front of me, and doing my best. Before I know it, I am doing great stuff and working with wonderful people. I trust that my post-‘Glee’ career will do that as well.”
Like Lynch, novelist and mathematician Manil Suri is accustomed to managing a multifaceted career — but exponentially more so. Over the past two decades, he has been a tenured math professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County while publishing three acclaimed novels, including the bestseller “The Death of Vishnu.” A fourth book is in the works, he said, but has more or less been on hold the past year while he has pursued his latest creative endeavor: writing his first play.
“The Mathematics of Being Human,” Suri’s collaboration with Folger Theatre dramaturge Michele Osherow, debuted a year ago in Waterloo, Ontario. The pair had been asked to speak at St. Jerome’s University on interdisciplinary studies after team-teaching a class at UMBC.
“I said, ‘You’re a dramaturge, why don’t we write a play instead?’ ” Suri recalled asking Osherow. “She said, ‘That’s crazy.’ ” But six weeks later, the pair had drafted a one-act play that would star themselves as two haggling professors, and St. Jerome’s supplied two young actors to play their students.
“It was the most scary thing that I’ve ever done in my life,” Suri said. “But it went okay.”
The script-in-hand performance was so well received that they kept revising the dialogue, found a director (Alan Kreizenbeck) and mounted the play at UMBC last fall. In the process, they created such buzz on campus that UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III ended up coming to the show.
Earlier this month, the UMBC contingent traveled to New York to stage the play at the National Museum of Mathematics. (Yes, there is such a thing, and it’s in Chelsea.)
Suri said he has been learning a lot lately about crafting dialogue and the differences between writing a novel and writing a play.
“Some of the earlier drafts — at least my parts — had too much exposition, or the characters were explaining their motives with too much detail,” he said. “Michele reminded me several times that you don’t need to explain these things. The actors do that. You just have a compact line, and that takes care of a whole paragraph.”
Suri and Osherow will be in Washington on Thursday at the National Academy of Sciences’ free D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous, where they will present a scene and discuss the play. Then on March 26, the play will be read almost in its entirety at Stevenson University’s Comparative Drama Conference — the first time that Suri and Osherow will watch their play rather than performing it.
But they’re not stepping away just yet. They’re looking for a theater that might mount a more complete staging of “The Mathematics of Being Human” in hopes that the play will have a life beyond conferences and symposiums. Suri, however, is ready to leave acting behind.
“It’s absolutely exhausting,” he said of rehearsals. “I had no idea how much work was involved.” Coming from a man who stays busy by teaching computational methods, writing bestsellers and solving equations, that’s saying a lot.
Last week, Theatre Communications Group, the New York-based umbrella organization for North American theaters, announced that Washington’s Young Playwrights’ Theater was one of four inaugural recipients of its Blue Star Theatres grant program, which funds educational programming for military families.
YPT plans to use the $5,000 grant for eight playwriting workshops for children of military families, which will culminate in a public performance. Playwright Paula Vogel and Army Capt. Steve Scuba were among the panelists who chose the finalist theaters.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.