Actress Jane Lynch swings through Florida for Christmas, breaks the internet with Disney

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning actress Jane Lynch has brought joy to fans worldwide for years. Known for her roles in mockumentaries like “Best in Show” and animated features like “Wreck it Ralph,” she became a household name as the love-to-hate Sue Sylvester during her run on Fox’s hit musical series “Glee.”

The out comedian has most recently set her sights on singin’ her season’s greetings with “A Swingin’ Little Christmas.” She’s joined by Kate Flannery from “The Office,” jazz staples the Tony Guerrero Quintet and Tim Davis, known for his work with artists like Lady Gaga and Pentatonix.

Together they’ll deliver a kitschy, retro concert of holiday classics at Tampa’s Straz Center Dec. 8-9 and Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center Dec. 14-16. The entertainer extraordinaire also returns as Sgt. Calhoun in Disney’s “Wreck It Ralph” sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” in theaters now.

Watermark gleefully caught up with Lynch to talk about her love of music, her return to Disney Studios and her seasonal swing through Florida.

WATERMARK: How did “A Swingin’ Little Christmas” come about?

Jane Lynch: We were on tour with a show called “See Jane Sing,” myself and Kate Flannery. She played Meredith, the drunk in “The Office.” We were also with our five piece band, the Tony Guerrero Quintet, and Tim Davis, who was the vocal arranger on “Glee” and is a wonderful singer himself. We decided two years ago that we would put together an album, which seemed like an easy thing to do.

Was it?

Indeed it was. We got a bunch of public domain Christmas songs, and our band leader Tony is a wonderful orchestrator. Some of it’s big band, some of it’s just the quintet that’ll take you back to the late 50s, early 60s in terms of style—the Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney days. Once we were releasing it we did four nights in San Francisco and thought we should just turn this into our show and do it every Christmas. This will be our third Christmas and our longest tour; we’ve got about 34 shows and 23 cities.

What are some of your earliest musical memories?

I grew up in a house filled with music; my parents loved music, they loved to sing. My dad was a great harmonizer, and they loved musicals. They loved the music of their day which would’ve been the wartime music, the big band music, all the way up until the 50s and early 60s. We grew up with musicals and all of that around the house.

What was that like?

When I was growing up we played the same album over and over again, and it just said “Christmas” every time I heard it. None of us are professional—I guess I’m professional now—my brother played the piano but none of us were like the Partridge Family. We just loved to sit around the piano, especially at Christmas. We would have a huge open house Christmas Eve party where friends, family and neighbors would come and we would all sing around the piano. It was so much fun; it was raucous, it was drunken, it was a great spell of time there where we had those wonderful open houses.
From open houses to national tours, including Broadway.

I didn’t perform in a professional way until “Annie.” I was basically just kind of a straight actor—and when I say straight, I mean I was not dancing and singing—but I did a lot of sketch comedy with friends, where we would rent out a theater in Chicago. Or when I was in Los Angeles, we would rent out a theater for two months and we’d do a sketch comedy show. I always found a way to do a song in that, and usually

I’d do it with Kate or a couple of other people. So we’ve been at this for a long time, I just wasn’t pursuing music.

Speaking of your acting, LGBTQ representation is at an all-time high on television. Why is that so important?
I think everybody should be represented in our stories. In spite of the resistance by some people it’s happening anyway, which is great. In some ways we’re becoming—not tolerant, because tolerant is like, “well, I’ll tolerate you”—but a loving and inclusive humanity … Hopefully everybody will join the big “we are the world” situation that we could have. (Laughs.)

Is that what fans can expect from your tour?

It’s a really lively, fun, toe-tapping Christmas experience. Everyone leaves there so happy; we leave so happy after every show. We love doing it and I love our five-piece band. They’re amazing Jazz players, which means they can play anything.

We do all of those songs and of course Kate and I have not only been singing together for decades, but we’ve known each other for that long too. So there’s always fun buffoonery happening in-between songs.

Kate is a wild card; unpredictable and spontaneous, and I have a lot of fun trying to rein her in. That’s kind of the meat of the funny stuff that happens.

Why is spreading holiday cheer important?

There’s nothing that brings people together better than music and laughter. That’s really fun to do all over the country—it’s just about getting to the love between human beings. We’re all the same. We bring that gift to each other, and so the audience definitely partakes in the whole experience, we’re not alone up there just singing at you.The audience is really a part of it, not that they’re singing along so much, but they’re really feeding us as we perform.

What are some of your favorite parts about touring?

The most exciting thing is figuring out what to pack. I’m a Zen kind of a gal; I like to be minimal, so I’m always challenged. I’ve never had to check a bag and I’ve gone on some pretty long tours. I love hotels, I love going in and out of them. I love that someone makes my bed when I leave; I love my pals. We’ve faced every hardship and every joy together, I really adore these people. We’ll be on a bus for the first time because it is such a long trip, so that’ll be fun to too—but we never have to sleep on it, which is great. We’re sleeping in hotels.

That’s very different from your time on “Glee.” Are you still close with anyone in the cast?

Yeah, we get together every now and then. Chris [Colfer] and Kevin [McHale] basically live in my neighborhood; I see everybody a lot. My niece worked on the show as well. She was an assistant to one of the executive producers and she’s really good friends with a lot of them. They hang out all the time, so if I’m not there that doesn’t mean that they’re not hanging out. But there’s a bond there that I’m sure will last a lifetime.

You’re also returning to Disney for “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” What was that like?

The great thing about doing “Wreck it Ralph,” or “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” is that the writers and the producers—the two same guys, Phil Johnston and Rich Moore—are so smart and so funny. They make every session just hilarious.

I usually recorded with Jack McBrayer, which is kind of a rarity where you get to actually work with the person you are working with in the animated film. They usually do it where you’re completely isolated; somebody reads you their lines. In this case they really love the chemistry of the actors together, and that’s why Sarah Silverman and John C Reilly have such a terrific relationship in this. You’re gonna love it in this next film; it’s just a real gem.

What do you find the most challenging about such a wide array of work?

I don’t do anything challenging anymore. (Laughs.) I really don’t. I have kind of a peace and Zen approach. If something looks too hard, I don’t do it. I did that for a long time and I think I wore those circuits out. I just kind of woke up one day and all that had fallen away.If something is challenging in the moment I just breathe it out and say I’m not going to do that again.

What about the most rewarding? Is it the studio or the stage?

I love being on stage. I’m so excited to go on tour with these guys, that is my most rewarding thing. We really love each other, we adore working together, we skip to the airport we’re so happy. (Laughs.)
I never wanted to be up there alone, I always like being surrounded by people. Even in my house, I want warm bodies around. I want my own bedroom where nobody can come in, but I love having a house full of people. I love performing with a bunch of people who are like family and that’s definitely the case with this crew of people we’re bringing to you guys in Florida.

Jane Lynch’s “A Swingin’ Little Christmas” brings holiday cheer to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts Dec. 8-9 in Tampa and to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando Dec. 14-16. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit strazcenter.org and drphillipscenter.org. Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is now playing in theaters worldwide.

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