- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2016

Yes, you know her as Sue Sylvester, the dyspeptic cheerleading coach who tore everyone down to size for six seasons on “Glee,” and as Paula, the delightfully stentorian manager of the electronics store where Steve Carell worked with his slacker chums in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

But what you may know is that Jane Lynch can sing, and she has been doing so for decades. In fact, the comedy wizardess will be performing at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre Friday in a show she has dubbed “See Jane Sing.”

“I always knew I wanted to be on stage. I just said yes to everything,” Miss Lynch told The Washington Times ahead of her Friday show, which she said will consist of a mixture of singing and laughter. “It’s a musical journey through a world of song. We go all over the American songbook.”

Expect a little bit of spontaneity Friday evening. Miss Lynch, a native of the Chicago suburbs, cut her teeth with the famous Second City comedy troupe, a breeding ground for comedians that has been the starting line for everyone from Dan Aykroyd to Tina Fey. Miss Lynch was a part of Second City’s touring company, which took her around the country.

Her chosen profession eventually took her to Los Angeles, where she worked in improv theaters while trying out for parts in film and on television. Her most notable early score was a small roles in “The Fugitive” in 1993.

Then Christopher Guest cast her in his dog pageant comedy “Best in Show” in 2000. Like his other “mockumentaries,” this one was done without a script and constructed from the ground up. Miss Lynch later appeared in Mr. Guest’s “A Mighty Wind” and will also be part of his cast for “Mascots,” opening later this year.

“The Christopher Guest movies were probably my first kind of big break … when things shifted for me from being an anonymous actor to being somebody people knew,” she said of the Spinal Tap alum’s work.

Then an old friend of hers from the Second City days, Mr. Carell, invited her to audition for a film he and Judd Apatow had written about a middle-aged, closeted virgin employed in a dead-end job at a big-box electronics store. The role of the boss was originally scripted for a man, but working with Mr. Carrel and Mr. Apatow, Miss Lynch turned the small role of Paula into a memorable presence who, in a comically disturbing way, even offers to be Mr. Carrel’s “first.”

“A lot of those things that came out of my mouth were things Judd would scream in my ear,” Miss Lynch said with a laugh. “We definitely developed it together, and it was such a blast.”

Made for only $26 million, “The 40-Year-Virgin” grossed well over $100 million and put the term “Apatowian” on the map to describe a new style of film comedy that is as much found in the writing as it is in on-set improvisation between the actors.

Then came “Glee,” the TV comedy that made a capella culture, if not cool, at least not as singularly fringe as it had once been.

“I think nobody has control over the trajectory of their lives,” Miss Lynch said of the fickle nature of showbiz success. “We just kind of roll with it or not roll with whatever comes our way,” she said of professional actors walking the fine line between keeping working and being choosy with projects.

“Glee” went off the air in 2015, but its star is far from mawkish about it. Rather, she says, it’s the nature of the Hollywood beast, and getting too attached to one’s own resume prevents you from keeping eyes forward.

“You move on to the next thing,” Miss Lynch said of the show’s cancellation, adding she rarely will “grieve” a project upon its completion. “I’m not a sentimental person at all actually. I’m used to doing really fun, wonderful things and then moving on.”

Going beyond “Glee,” the actress has four projects slated in 2016 alone, including Mr. Guest’s “Mascots.”

In the meantime, Miss Lynch will bring District audiences a helluva musical show Friday evening.

“My first call when I was first putting this together was to Kate Flannery, who played Meredith the drunk on ‘The Office.’ We’ve been singing together off and on for decades,” Miss Lynch said. “Kate is hilarious. She’s usually behind me doing something ridiculous.”

Also joining her on stage will be Tim Davis, who was a vocal arranger on “Glee.”

Despite her natural charisma in front of an audience, Miss Lynch claims that she didn’t imagine she’d be back on a stage again, but rather spending her energies on her blossoming film and TV career.

“Then I got offered [the role of Miss Hannigan] in ‘Annie’ on Broadway, and I said yes to that,” the actress said of her 2013 debut on the Great White Way. “And I was sort of re-bitten by the bug, and now you can’t get me offstage,” she said with a laugh.

And what’s next? Miss Lynch says she is very Dude-like in her approach to life.

“I’ve kind of accepted early that life rolls at your feet, and you kind of can be like [the Dude from] ‘The Big Lebowksi’ and soak in the tub,” she said of Jeff Bridges’ iconic stoner character.

“I don’t necessarily have a goal; you just have to be ready.”

“See Jane Sing” will be at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater Friday at 7 .m. Tickets are $70 to $125 by going to Kennedy-Center.org.

• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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