Ana Gasteyer may be best known for creating indelible, giggle-inducing characters like the nauseating middle school music teacher Bobbie Moughan-Culp and gut-busting impersonations of a tightly wound Martha Stewart and a shrill Celine Dion during her six-season stint on "Saturday Night Live." But since leaving the iconic late-night sketch comedy series in 2002, the 38-year-old Gasteyer has been busy carving out a career as a budding Broadway star - unlikely territory for a former "SNL" funny gal.
Gearing up to take on the role of Mrs. Peachum in the star-studded Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, Gasteyer may be focusing on musical theatre at the moment, but this former TV star hasn't lost a step when it comes to her Ginsu-sharp sense of humor and deadpan comic timing.
"When I read the [character] breakdown to my husband, it said 'overbearing,' 'manipulative' and 'shrewish.' He's like, 'Sounds like a fit!'" quips the actress, with a laugh, over the phone from Chicago, where she's just finishing up a seven-and-a-half month stint as the misunderstood witch Elphaba in the Chicago production of Wicked.
The actress admits that she's a bit nervous about doing Threepenny because the material is such a departure from the "girl-centric" themes of Wicked. "Mrs. Peachum is so distrustful of women and their wiles and of what men want from them. She's basically a deeply manipulative, distrustful old bag," cracks Gasteyer, with another hearty laugh. "You know those women . . . . They're usually like office managers - mean and shrewy and creepily sexy, but not sexless." Co-starring Alan Cumming, Cyndi Lauper, Jim Dale and Nellie McKay, helmed by Scott Elliott and based on a new adaptation by Wallace Shawn, Threepenny is a dark morality play peppered with vile, heartless and salacious characters. "All I know is that I'm excited because I get to swear constantly," says the actress. "And I love swearing onstage. Especially now that I have a three-year-old."
The groundbreaking musical was written during the heyday of Germany's Weimar Republic, at a time when greed was rampant and a corrupt government enriched its own coffers while neglecting the basic needs of its poorest citizens. If this sounds familiar, Gasteyer agrees that it should. "It seems very relevant to the current social, racial, economic climate of our country," she suggests. "Nobody really gives a crap about each other. I think it says a lot about what we'll do to one another to get what we want in the moment."
While Gasteyer may not have had to step on any toes in making her way up the career ladder, she has had to prove herself repeatedly since making the decision to focus on theatre. Although she won various roles in productions like the Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show, New York City Opera's Cinderella, David Lindsay-Abaire's Kimberly Akimbo and Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's Funny Girl, it wasn't until her critically hailed turn as Elphaba that she convinced the Broadway cognoscenti that she possessed both the pipes and the dramatic chops to become a Broadway fixture.
If you can sing Elphaba, people stop wondering if you have what it takes. And if you can get good reviews in a show like Wicked, it sort of puts to rest the idea that you're some charlatan television actor," says Gasteyer, who's also done a few films since leaving "SNL," including a memorable turn as Lindsay Lohan's crunchy-academic mom in the blockbuster teen comedy "Mean Girls."
By going after a wide array of parts, Gasteyer hopes to reverse any residual typecasting that may still linger from her days perfecting parodies of dowdy, middle-aged women on "SNL" - such as the mind-numbing NPR cooking show host Margaret Jo. "We have a joke that I'm always being called in to play Dodie Panselmoots, the old wisecracking lesbian neighbor," she says with a laugh. "So I'm trying to divorce myself of some of these wacky character ladies who do the one weird song."