by Jordan Cohen
I don’t think I’m making any news when I announce that Ana Gasteyer is funny. Seriously funny. For more than two decades, she has graced both stage and screen with her deadpan wit and quirky charm, having shot to fame on Saturday Night Live in the mid-90s. For seven years, she spun comedy gold alongside other such legends as Molly Shannon and Will Ferrell during what I’d call SNL’s last golden age. Her double-entendre laden “Schweddy Balls” sketch and her impeccable Martha Stewart are just two standout routines amongst many.
But did you also know that Ms. Gasteyer has a powerful set of pipes, which she puts to spectacular use in her new cabaret show at The Café Carlyle, running now through November 5?
Actually, maybe you did, since one of Ms. Gasteyer’s most popular SNL characters was a middle school choir teacher who reveled in creating operatic mash-ups of hit pop songs (think, if you will, Sysqo’s “Thong Song” à la Puccini). Goofy premise, indeed, but behind the satire there was some great singing!
Or perhaps you caught her on Broadway in Threepenny Opera, Rocky Horror, or Wicked, where she played Elpheba after originating the role in Chicago?
All this experience has served Ms. Gasteyer well and combines for a memorable night of cabaret. There’s a madcap quality to the evening, not unlike an excellent improv show, as she moves between wacky monologues and a grab bag of standards, musical theater, and pop. She plays the violin several times, which she picked up as an eye-patch wearing kid growing up in the inner city—“it’s how I came to comedy,” she quips. Her one-liners are fast and furious, and doused with a healthy dose of irony.
“Talk amongst yourselves, who are you voting for?” she blurts out after a feverish performance of Leslie and Monaco’s “Crazy People” left her breathless. On politics, what worries her most about Trump’s xenophobia, she explains, is that he might get rid of ethnic food. This launches her seamlessly into the rousing Tormé and Wells tune, “Tacos, Enchiladas and Beans.” Her mid-show monologue about aliens and car trouble in Iowa goes on a tad long, but never really loses its interestingness.
She did bring things down a few times, first with The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love,” sung as a simple and heartfelt love letter to her husband, and then, to my delight, a pared down version of “Defying Gravity” (Stephen Schwartz). It was anti-climactic, but in the most refreshing way.
Ms. Gasteyer confesses that performing cabaret is “a kind of therapy” for her . . . “where you pay.” Her bit about her mother calling her a “handsome woman” had the audience in stitches, as did her jaunt around the room looking for a “a sister wife.” Her brain moves a mile-a-minute and instead of tiring us out—or tiring herself out—we savor every last drop.
Julian Fleischer directed the show, and Tedd Firth provided musical direction and played piano. Jeremy Chatsky played bass, Richard Feridun was on guitar, Greg Thymius held down saxophone and reeds, and David Berger was on the drums. All played kazoo.
Ana Gasteyer at the Café Carlyle. Through November 5 at The Café Carlyle at the Carlyle Hotel (35 East 76th Street at Madison Avenue). Tickets: Café Carlyle or call (212) 744-1600
Photos: David Andrako