SARATOGA SPRINGS — Friday night in Saratoga Springs, competition on the air will be waived. Three local television news anchors will be away from their desks performing together at the National Museum of Dance.
WRGB-TV Channel 6 news anchor Jerry Gretzinger joins his WNYT Channel 13 rivals Benita Zahn and Jessica Layton for a special musical performance to benefit the Saratoga Children’s Theater.
Though an unusual alignment of the local television stars, the performance at the National Museum of Dance by the threesome, dubbed Fort Salem Theater presents The Singing Anchors, is by no means a first. In fact, it’s a third-time reunion for what was previously a foursome — the trio first performed together last winter in a Red Cross benefit, with Channel 13’s Phil Bayly.
Nor are the anchors the first area television personalities to trod the boards as amateur performers. Longtime TV staple Tom Mailey did it, news reporter John Allen was well-known on area stages before scoring his TV gig, and then there was “DeLisle on the Aisle,” — the late TV critic (and longtime Record editor) Doug deLisle — for years a local fixture as actor and director.
Still, the sight of on-camera competitors sharing a microphone onstage remains sufficiently novel. “People don’t expect that intermingling,” Zahn said. “But based on the feedback I get, they love it that we can all share a stage and share the bows. And for each of us, we’re all in this together. On the flip side, it’s really nice to get away from the competitive pressure. It’s three people who really love to perform and really like each other.”
Their act is anchored in the Broadway songbook; Zahn and Layton tackle a bit of Wicked, and Zahn and Gretzinger reel off “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” — “a little Channel 6-Channel 13 rivalry,” Zahn said.
“We all have an opportunity to sing pieces that tell an audience a little bit about us,” she added. “It’s a little bit of pop, most of it is Broadway — but not all tried and true. And I’m doing an original.”
Of their first collaboration, “We didn’t have a show, per se,” said Zahn, 13’s anchor and health correspondent, who also produces Healthlink on public television’s WMHT Thursday nights. Of the trio, Zahn is perhaps the ranking veteran as an area stage performer, seen everywhere from Albany Civic to Park Playhouse to the Fort Salem Theater in Washington County, where the Singing Anchors show originated in The Cabaret. Zahn has even tried her hand at a little standup.
“When we did the Red Cross fundraiser last March, Jess and Jerry did a duet, but I didn’t sing with them,” she said. “We were all on the same bill, but we all did individual musical numbers. We all got along well and we decided to do it again.”
In November, restyled as the PB & J’s (an amalgam of their initials), the trio performed a more integrated musical revue as a house fundraiser at Fort Salem, where Zahn has performed on stage in, among other things, her own one-woman revue as well as last summer’s They’re Playing Our Song. Fort Salem’s Jay Kerr penned the original number Zahn will perform with the Anchors.
“We built (November’s) show from the ground up, and it was such a fun little show we decided to do it again,” Zahn said. Approached by the Children’s Theater’s Meg Kelly, they signed on; “the parents and kids are providing the refreshments,” Zahn said. Bayly, who couldn’t squeeze in the time, will be sitting this one out. Time is an issue for all of the anchors. “You’ve got to be really determined and dedicated to working it into your schedule,” Zahn said.
Of the three, Layton is the neophyte, though she dabbled in theater as a student at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School and later at Syracuse University. But Gretzinger, like Zahn, has taken to the boards with increasing frequency lately — notably a leading turn in last summer’s The Producers, with Spotlight Players; he also recently completed a featured appearance as a rock ‘n’ rollin’ Pharaoh in Schenectady Light Opera’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
“He’s fun to perform with,” Zahn said. “He has a wonderful voice and he has a great way about him onstage” — a charm that shows on-camera in his growing body of feature reporting.
Their employers don’t seem to mind the very public moonlighting. “This is what we do in our private lives,” Zahn said. “It doesn’t take any time away from work. If anything, it’s value-added to the station. It brings us into the community in a way nothing else can.” And it shines high-profile spotlights on very worthy causes.
“One of the things that delights us all is singing, and singing together has really been a joy,” Zahn said. “It’s just so neat.”
The anchors have no formal plans for an encore, but, Zahn said, “We would love it if somebody would book us for their event.” There’s certainly little doubt the camera loves them.
Fort Salem Theater presents The Singing Anchors performs Friday at the National Museum of Dance, Broadway in Saratoga Springs, at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
For tickets, $25 in advance, call 580-1782 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.