Review by Brian Scott Lipton
Put two women who have made TV audiences laugh out loud for years on a stage together and you can expect hilarity. Add in the fact that both have considerable singing chops and you can expect some musical magic as well. Put them on the stage of the often staid Café Carlyle, however, and – well, let’s just say it’s best to check your expectations at the door. Instead, just go along for the often dizzying and delightful ride that Jane Lynch (best known for her Emmy-winning work as Sue Sylvester on “Glee”) and Kate Flannery (aka Meredith on NBC’s long-running sitcom “The Office”) have concocted for their all-new show, “Two Lost Souls.”
The pair are longtime friends, having worked together as part of Chicago’s famed improv troupe The Groundlings, and have toured previously together over the past few years. Their easy camaraderie and shared sense of humor proved to be a bonus, especially during a few of the rougher patches they experienced on their opening night (not surprising, given that it was the show’s literal debut). But a flubbed lyric, off-key note or disjointed harmony here and there did little to wipe the constant smile off the faces of most audience members.
The wacky nature of this enterprise is immediately eventful during the opening number when musical director Tony Guerrero, an unassuming-looking white gentleman, does a spot-on impression of Louis Armstrong on “When You’re Smiling,” followed by the ladies’ first appearance: an uptempo, nearly vaudevillian take on Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s wistful ballad “Far From the Home I Love” (from “Fiddler on the Roof”).
Not only are these songs the start of something big – to use the title of the women’s second duet — they are the start of an evening full of surprises. After all, do you really expect to hear parts of the classic “Bei Mir Bist Du Shon” sung in Yiddish, a decidedly less than reverential take on the Christmas classic “Good King Wenceslas” or a jazzy version of “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” when you walk in? I didn’t think so.
Lynch – who nicely carries a tune except when purposely reaching for notes she can’t hit – takes the lead on two not-so-serious songs by The Folksmen (the fictional group created by her former co-stars Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest): “The Skeletons of Quinto” and “Blood on the Coals,” as well as serving up a quite good version of the Rosemary Clooney standard “Mambo Italiano.” As for Flannery, a big belter who can admittedly get a tad pitchy, she is at her strongest during Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer’s “Shy” (from “Once Upon A Mattress”) and the camp classic “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” (from “Valley of the Dolls”) which concludes a very funny medley primarily devoted to snippets of songs about dependent romantic relationships.
While the show ostensibly ends with an all-out take on title tune (from “Damn Yankees”) and Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s “The Party’s Over” – the best is yet to come. There’s a hilarious and slightly touching encore crafted from songs that each of the performers, musicians and even the Carlyle’s lighting man found to be sad when they were children – I won’t spoil the surprises — followed by Nicki Minaj’s rap classic “Anaconda.” Yep, I bet that will be the only time in history that song gets heard in these swank surroundings!
The band members are: Mark Visher (saxophone/flute), Rich Zurkowski (bass) and Sean McDaniel (drums.
Photos: David Andrako
Jane Lynch and Kate Flannery: Two Lost Souls continues at the Café Carlyle (35 East 76th Street) through September 22. Call 212-744-1600 for reservations and information.