TV anchors appear live, seen by large audiences, for hours each week. But they're not in the same room as those watching them, instead stared at by silent, looming camera lenses, often with words scrolling across the front.
"I love the immediate interaction with an audience," says WRGB Ch. 6's Jerry Gretzinger, who anchors the 5 and 5:30 p.m. weeknight news for the local CBS affiliate and has a side interest in musical theater. "Bonding with people right in front of you -- that's just not something you get at all" from anchoring TV, says Gretzinger. He adds, "Four times a year," when ratings are released, "you find out whether people are approving of what you do or not."
Gretzinger and a pair of friendly rivals from another local news operations -- WNYT Ch. 13's Jessica Layton and Benita Zahn -- will get to see their fans in person and demonstrate a different kind of performing skill on Saturday, when they bring their cabaret act, called Fort Salem Theater presents The Singing Anchors, to WAMC's Linda Norris Auditorium in Albany. The evening of songs and stories, with music direction and accompaniment by Jay Kerr of the Fort Salem Theater in Washington County, began as a foursome, with WNYT's Phil Bayly, for a charity benefit in 2008.
Bayly performed only once, but the other three loved the outlet for their singing. They're now available "for weddings, bar mitzvahs, showers, birthday parties -- whatever," as Zahn likes to say.
The performance weaves songs with personal stories to provide audiences both entertainment and a more intimate portrait of personalities most know only from their television set. Thus Gretzinger goofs on the perception that TV anchors have inflated egos by singing "Me," from Beauty and the Beast, originally sung in the show by the self-absorbed character Gaston.
Gentle jousting between competing stations manifests itself in a version of "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," from Annie Get Your Gun. And Layton tells the story of finding her soulmate (and fiance and WNYT sports anchor), Andrew Catalon, before singing "Matchmaker," from Fiddler on the Roof, a show she performed in years ago.
"We poke a little fun at each other, we bring in some light stories -- it's just a great time for us," says Zahn.
She was the connection to Kerr, a Broadway veteran and New York City vocal coach who now owns the Fort Salem Theater. Zahn performed in musicals at the theater during the past two summers and spent summer 2007 in the company's cabaret. Kerr helped the singers organize material they wanted to sing, suggested additional songs and, for the overbusy Zahn, wrote an original biographical number called "Just One More Hour."
Gretzinger, who has been with WRGB for eight years, was literally born into a theatrical family -- his parents met while working on a show together -- but had taken a few years off after starting to work in this market. He returned to the stage as the character Teen Angel in Schenectady Light Opera Company's 2005 production of Grease, going to the theater between anchoring 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts to sing Teen Angel's one song, "Beauty School Dropout."
"I loved it. I never could stay for a curtain call, but I loved it," Gretzinger says.
Layton, a Burnt Hills native, had sung in college, including the national anthem at Syracuse University games, and was looking for an outlet after returning to the Capital Region from a Watertiown TV station in late 2006.
"It was Benita who said, 'Hey, new girl, we really should put a show together,' " Layton says. "We did. ... It's been an absolute blast."
Steve Barnes can be reached at 454-5489 or by e-mail at email@example.com Visit his blog at http://blogs.timesunion.com/tablehopping .
The Singing Anchors
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Linda Norris Auditorium, WAMC Performing Arts Center, 339 Central Ave., Albany
Program: An evening of Broadway tunes, songbook standards and stories, presented by Fort Salem Theater in Salem, Washington County
Info: 465-5233, Ext. 4, or http://thelinda.org