Ana Gasteyer Gets 'Hip' in SF

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Thursday December 3, 2015
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You know Ana Gasteyer from her iconic comedy roles on Saturday Night Live and other TV shows. And if you're lucky, you got to see her as Elphaba in the original Chicago and later Broadway productions of Wicked. This weekend, you can enjoy the multi-talent on her own - with a band - as she performs witty, touching and beautiful jazz and pop renditions, including songs from her new solo album "I'm Hip."

And is she ever.

In a phone interview from Connecticut, where Gasteyer was set to perform her new concert, she described the act she'll also perform in San Francisco December 4 and 5 at Feinstein's at the Nikko.

"I'll mostly be singing songs from my new album, 'I'm Hip'; a few from my previous shows ["Let it Rip" and "Elegant Songs from a Handsome Woman"], "but with updated arrangements, shall we say? And of course, it's the holiday time, so I'm preparing some holiday gems."

Fans unfamiliar with Gasteyer's extensive music background, who only know her comedy talents, will enjoy the blend of fun and wit. But Gasteyer's song selections on her album I'm Hip reveal a more subtle style than some of her more broad comic TV characters.

For example, her choice of the theme song from Valley of the Dolls may seem campy, but the performance embeds the implied humor under the soft blanket of a sincere vocal style.

"When I approach a piece of music, I consider that," said Gasteyer. "I'm a comedian and a singer, and I realize the consciousness of someone watching me perform. I try to approach material that has humor, camp and a joyfulness to it. That's how I decided on recording the Valley of the Dolls theme.

"I'm also a huge Dory Previn fan," Gasteyer added. The lyricist co-wrote the 1967 song with her then-husband Andre Previn. "I didn't want to play it for the camp. It's a beautiful piece of music, so it was great to sort of lean in the other direction. There's a lot of pain and beauty there."

Back in the comic direction, her album's title song, "I'm Hip" is Gasteyer's update on the witty song written by David Frishberg and Bob Dorough. Frishberg is also known for composing the Schoolhouse Rock classic, "I'm Just a Bill."

Gasteyer explained that the 1960s song has been redone several times. Her new lyrics include references like "artisanal duck served from a truck."

"It was kind of a winky cabaret song in the day," Gasteyer explained. "So I rewrote that song for my act. I live in Brooklyn and I'm getting old, or older, I should say, and it just made me laugh."

"The weird thing about being branded an SNL entertainer is that you're stuck in the middle of pop culture for your whole career," said Gasteyer. "But I am doing other things, and part of it is being a nerdy mom, and trying to fit in. So I had a really good time writing that song."

It also offers a timely cultural perspective that had a fortuitous hipster trend inspiration.

"I was sitting and thinking about it, in Brooklyn," said Gasteyer, "when a girl went by me in a jumpsuit, on a fixie bike, and she ran into a food truck. I'm not kidding. It all happened at the same time, like some kind of hip conversion."

Gasteyer lives in "the epicenter of hip," Williamsburg, with her husband Charlie McKittrick and two children.

"Actually," she added, "now the hip epicenter is Bed-Sty, but it keeps moving."

Music & Comedy
Gasteyer shared her thoughts on her crossover career of serious Broadway musicals and the culturally wry impressions on SNL. Gasteyer's extensive list of spot-on impressions include Martha Stewart, Celine Dion, politicians, and even Barbra Streisand auditioning for Princess Leia in Star Wars.

A graduate of Northwestern University in voice and theater, Gasteyer was born in Washington, D.C. and got her first performing jobs with the L.A. sketch comedy group The Groundlings. One of her earliest TV roles was as an unfortunate victim of "The Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld.

Dozens of other TV guest-starring gigs and film roles have kept the actress in the pop culture spotlight since the mid-1990s. Recently, Gasteyer also won acclaim as Sheila Shay, the eccentric housewife in the series Suburgatory. But most TV viewers know her for her years at SNL from from 1996 to 2002.

The balance of people's expectation in Gasteyer's comedy are combined with her impressive singing chops in Broadway shows and concerts, including her originating the role of Elphaba, the green-skinned heroine of the mega-hit musical Wicked.

Since she first performed in the Midwest production, the global fandom, mostly among young women and girls (and lots of gay men), remains a bit separate from Gasteyer's TV fan base. This in spite of her other Broadway credits in revivals of Threepenny Opera, The Rocky Horror Show (as Columbia), The Royal Family, and A New Brain, the score of which she recently recorded.

"People continue to be surprised that I do one thing or another," she said. "The power of television is just huge, compared to the power of an epic hit like Wicked. In my situation, because I originated that role in Chicago, and it was the first Midwestern production of a major Broadway musical, and there was a lot less comparison, and there was more surprise. The world is so vastly different from when I left SNL to when I started in Wicked. I mostly have fans from one or the other."

With her select tour of cabaret shows focusing on I'm Hip, Gasteyer said she hopes to "fuse these two ridiculously different but not necessarily separate paths. That's why I like old-fashioned music and novelty songs. They're from an era where entertainers were expected to be well-rounded."

Devoted Wicked fans can expect Gasteyer to perform her touching softer version of Stephen Schwartz' "Defying Gravity."

"Part of the reason I do that quieter version relates to what I think is so cool about cabaret," said Gasteyer. "It's this opportunity to almost have someone perform in your living room. It's intimate. I cut my teeth as an audience member on people like Bette Midler. The first time I saw her was at Radio City Music Hall, in the nose-bleed section, but I left feeling like we were best friends. That, to me, is the whole goal of performing; personal. There is no fourth wall, like there is in everything else I do."

With songs like "Mint Julip," a domestic "cautionary tale," the sardonic music video includes some familiar comic colleagues. And Gasteyer has more recordings scheduled.

"We're working on a Christmas album, which is why I was happy to tackle some of these new arrangements," said Gasteyer. "It's so joyful and ridiculous, and it seems like the right kind of attitude. I don't often perform a lot of holiday songs. This is kind of new for me, as much as I love the idea."

Gasteyer mentioned a recent performance with the Seattle Men's and Women's Chorus. "I've mostly performed songs with jollity and ridiculousness, not so much wistful. The trick, of course, is finding holiday music that is a good song, not just familiar, and having fun with those arrangements."

The fun jazz style of her new repertoire should please fans as we gear up for the holidays.

"It's my goal to make excellent holiday party music."

Gasteyer last performed in San Francisco in 2010 for the opening of another venue, Bay Area Cabaret at the Fairmont Hotel's Venetian Room. She sang "Defying Gravity" in a concert honoring composer Stephen Schwartz.

"I love it there," she said of our town. "I'm really looking forward to visiting. It's my people and my audience."

Gasteyer will bring her musical directors, and perform with a small band of local musicians.

So whether or not you imbibe, Gasteyer's beautiful singing will please with a perfect combination of the sincere and the silly.