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Regional Reviews: Seattle

Interview with Ana Gasteyer

Ana Gasteyer
Whether you know her best from her six year stint on "Saturday Night Live" (inhabiting such characters as high school music teacher Bobbie Mohan-Culp, NPR "Delicious Dish" host Margaret Jo McCullen, Lilith Fair feminist singer Cinder Calhoun, and homemaking maven Martha Stewart), an acclaimed turn as Elphaba in the Chicago and Broadway companies of Wicked, film roles in Mean Girls or the recent Fun Size, or her current weekly stint on ABC's sleeper comedy hit "Suburgatory" as the formidable Sheila Shay, Ana Gasteyer is clearly one of the most versatile talents around. Arriving in our Emerald City of Seattle to guest star in the opening weekend performances of Seattle Men's Chorus' holiday show Baby, It's Cold Outside, a much traveled Gasteyer, who had just flown back to L.A. from a San Francisco nightclub appearance, made time for Talkin' Broadway via phone from her "Suburgatory" dressing room.

David-Edward Hughes:  Seattle audiences are excited you're headed our way, Ana

Ana Gasteyer:  I am too, probably more excited than you are. I haven't been there in 20 years, and though I have appeared in Vancouver BC a few times, I've never appeared there, so I'm just thrilled, and especially to be working with the Men's Chorus. In my nightclub act I force my band members to sing, so this will be great, to work with enthusiastic people.

DEH:  What's on the musical agenda in your appearances?

AG:  We'll do some classic holiday tunes, a few with a little "spin" on them, and some numbers from my act. The back-up arrangements are sort of in the Tommy Dorsey style, and with great voices behind me it will be so much fun. I've heard the sound at Benayroya Hall is amazing, and I've been wowed by what I have seen on You Tube. And quite honestly, I'm sort of a weird mash-up singer. I was a trained singer, then I gave that up when I got into comedy, and then integrated it in with my comedy on SNL and stuff like that, and then went back to Broadway as sort of a late bloomer, but ultimately I'm a comedian. Which is the long way of saying that I'm glad to work with a group that has a sense of humor, and these guys have a really great one, so I'm not just this loud, funny person in the corner.

DEH:  As far as your singing goes, I fell hard for you when I heard you wail your big song in the Showtime film of Reefer Madness.

AG:  Thank you so much, what a great time that was. It's almost too bad that it wasn't released theatrically because it was shot in such a cinematic way, with Busby Berkely numbers and having such a good time with the numbers.

DEH:  Were Wicked audiences surprised by the power of your vocals?

AG:  Yes, and they are at my nightclub performances. People know you from television so much better than from the stage, no matter how many thousands of people saw Wicked. It's an old fashioned thing for a comedian to sing, it's not contemporary. And it's funny, but on "Suburgatory," 80% of my castmates can sing. They have great timing or the have a good ear. I mean, Jane Levy is a good singer, Allie Grant is a great singer, Chris Parnell can totally hold his own. A lot of the people I have worked with—Maya Rudolph is a great singer. It just surprises people seeing you do something in a different way.

DEH:  Do you think they might do an all musical episode of "Suburgatory" then?

AG:  My God! I sure hope so. We have some music coming up in future episodes, like one where the guys form a garage band. And Emily Kapnek, our creator, just loves music. I was a childhood, dread-filled violinist and studied violin at Interlochen, and went back to violin lessons so I could use it in my act in a sort of Jack Benny sort of way. We do "Dark Lady," the Cher song, and I play in that, and Jared Faber, the composer of the "Suburgatory" score, was there and said, "You better watch out, or Emily will use that in the show!"

DEH:  I think "Suburgatory" is one of the funniest shows on the air now.

AG:  My god, that is so nice to hear. We've kind of been a little, quiet show, all on our own doing our thing.

DEH:  I think your show, in its quieter way, does what the high profile ABC show "The Neighbors" is trying to do, which is contrast the "normal" family living amongst more eccentric types in their suburban neighborhood.

AG:  That is a very funny observation. I haven't heard that before, and I probably can't repeat it to my boss. That's hilarious. I think the show is actually grounded and very real, in some ways. The boundaries my character sets for her daughter are real, it's not exaggerated. Emily writes the show with truth, things that are true the world over. I think it's a really great dramedy. And, to me, that is very rich writing. I feel super lucky to be doing this. I'm not just the typical crazy neighbor across the street. I think our cast ... the kids are so good, and the grown-ups are people that I know and respect and have worked with.

DEH:  You were a part of a really "hot era" on "Saturday Night Live." What, in a few words, sums up your time there?

AG:  The Mafia? I mean you know, all the power, all the pull, all the access you could ever want, and you don't ever really leave. It is definitely my home, and the other actresses are all my best friends. It's an iconic workplace that has its own set of rules that you have to function within and play by. And if you survive it ... you can do anything. I have never experienced anxiety like I did there (laughter) and I hope never to again, but I loved it. It's crazy the opportunities that come not only from having been on the show, but a part of such a creative time on the show.

DEH:  How do you juggle holiday time with your family and your workload?

AG:  They live in New York and I shoot in L.A., so it is a juggling act. I'm going to try to bring my kids to Seattle. I think my daughter, especially, will get a kick out of the concert, and it will be a good place to get together as a family.

DEH:  Looking forward to seeing you in the show.

AG:  Thank you, and thanks for writing about it.

Baby, It's Cold Outside, the Seattle Men's Chorus Holiday concert plays November 30 - December 22, 2012 at Benaroya Hall, at 3rd and Pike, downtown Seattle (Ana Gasteyer appears only on November 30 and December 1) with select performances in Everett and Tacoma as well. For full ticket information go to

- David Edward Hughes

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