It should come as no surprise that Ana Gasteyer can carry a tune. During her six-year run on “Saturday Night Live,” the actress-comedian played a handful of singing characters, including Bobbie Mohan-Culp, the frumpy half of a middle-school music-teaching couple; Cinder Calhoun, the politically correct, vaguely Sapphic indie-rock songstress; and Celine Dion, the gushy and emaciated French-Canadian pop chanteuse.
Since leaving “SNL” in 2002, Gasteyer has performed in “Wicked” in Chicago and on Broadway, “The Threepenny Opera” on Broadway and even the lead role of Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” in Pittsburgh. This week, she will be in L.A. to perform not as any of the aforementioned characters, but as herself.
“Elegant Songs From a Handsome Woman,” her cabaret show, will run at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood from Thursday through Saturday. “The songs are goofy as all hell. There’s nothing vain about it... I hope,” said Gasteyer on the phone from her home in Brooklyn.
The show runs a swift 70 minutes. “I don’t like it when people go to the bathroom too much,” she explained.
Gasteyer performed the show earlier this year in New York at Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency. The L.A. engagement will feature jazz standards, novelty songs as well as excerpts from “Wicked.”
“It’s so easy in these cabaret venues to get earnest,” Gasteyer said. “I was inspired more by early Bette Midler. I do wear a fancy dress and very high heels — and extra high hair. My goal is to obliterate all earnestness.”
Gasteyer said that playing Bobbie Mohan-Culp on “SNL” helped her develop as a singer in unexpected ways. She recalled having to perform a high C for a non-Bobbie sketch and feeling intimidated by it. Cheryl Hardwick, the show’s musical director at the time, told her that she had heard her hit that note before as Bobbie, but that she didn’t realize it since Gasteyer was in character.
“Losing yourself in the character opens you up in a way that no amount of precise preparation can. That was when I felt the freest vocally,” she said. “The notes matter, but they’re meant to be interpreted. The best music is what’s being channeled.”
The actress described singing on Broadway in “Wicked” and other shows as “brutal, but it’s the same every day, which is good when you’re parenting. My whole ‘SNL’ experience was about pulling it all off in the moment you’re doing it. Theater was the antidote to that.”
Gasteyer now lives in Brooklyn with her husband, who works in advertising, and two children who are 9 and 3. In the months ahead, she expects to spend more time in Los Angeles thanks to a supporting role in the new ABC comedy series “Suburgatory.”
The actress spent some of her early comedy years in L.A. at the Groundlings Theatre. “At the time, it was all girls, with some men, but what blew me away coming from Chicago, was this incredible lineup of female comedians. And so I stuck with it. It’s still my home there. Will Ferrell was in the class ahead of me. It was life changing.”
The actress said performing her cabaret show is a return of sorts to the intimate live-audience setting that was crucial in improv. “It’s really intoxicating, feeling them and engaging with them,” she said.
“With film, you have absolutely no control. In comedy, the audience is orchestral, and once it starts, it doesn’t stop. That’s the same with cabaret — once the train takes off, it’s gone.”