“My grandmother was the most exciting human being I ever knew,” says Lynne Halliday, an aristocratic redhead who describes herself as “a soprano who can sing popular music.” And so, though she grew up in Montreal, Halliday made many trips to New York City to visit glamorous Grandma Luba. It was she who took Lynne to her first Broadway show (a rouser—Ethel Merman in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun). And she thought, “Yes, that’s what I’d like to do—stand on a stage and scream at people.”
Grandma didn’t agree. She treated Lynne to a show every year on her birthday, but “she would constantly come up with career alternatives for me: ‘I know what you should do!’ followed by some pretty odd suggestions. I’m sure she saw me getting rejected and frustrated, and wanted to help. I do know that her love of New York and the theater were infectious, and that I was hooked early on.”
Halliday couldn’t be persuaded out of aiming at her unlikely goal. She majored in drama at Vassar, did postgraduate work at Circle in the Square in Manhattan, did summer stock, studied voice, and took “every dance class there is—your basic ‘Please let me be good at something’ palette of jazz, tap, ballet, modern, everything.”
The thing she’s best at is singing. Her bell-clear, flexible voice has a fast vibrato and—when she needs it—a sassy edge or a tone of sweet wistfulness (Her album, Torched, is available on CD or from iTunes. She has sung at the 92nd street Y, the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center, the Dutch Treat Club, the Guggenheim Museum, and other venues; in 2000 she was chosen to be “The Voice” onstage at the American Ballet Theatre’s world premiere of Weren’t We Fools, a delicious compendium of Cole Porter songs. “I was onstage with the gorgeous ballerinas, and I was the musical expression of what they were dancing,” she says.
But, though the part was written with Halliday in mind, it was lower than her usual range. “That’s when I found the vocal coach I’ve stayed with ever since: Joyce Hall. She is a genius. She gave me extra notes in my voice, and has helped me maintain it and keep it in shape.” (Indeed, the program for the ballet lists Halliday as a Mezzo-Soprano.)
Her recent credits include Vacuum, a drama by Arlene Hutton at the 2012 New York City Film Festival; a staged reading of I’m Still Getting My Act Together at the York Theatre, which specializes in new musicals; and the starring role in Porterphiles, a revue of unpublished Cole Porter songs. (Halliday, a hardened Porterphile, was instrumental in the development of that show. She also particularly loves the music of Jerome Kern, Rodgers & Hart, and, most fervently, Irving Berlin. “Sometimes I think I was born too late. I love that stuff.”)
And singing classical music? “I think the last obviously classical recital I gave was in college,” she says. “A singer trains classically in order to be able to negotiate almost anything else. I always think of it as a batter on deck swinging two or three bats; when you’re actually in the batting box, it makes swinging that single bat feel much easier.”
The classical training also gave her a love of good lyrics, a love she finds lacking in some of today’s pop singers. “Porter, Gershwin, Berlin can take a simple lyric and make it just stunning. But some contemporary singers, I think, are not listening to the words; they’re listening to their voice. It’s an American Idol phenomenon . . . it’s all about frills rather than the words of the song.”
Halliday concedes that at this point in her life she’s unlikely to make it to an “official” Broadway stage. (Only a select group of theaters are officially “Broadway” theaters.) But she acknowledges this with serenity, because for “a hundred and fifty years” she’s been acting and singing and dancing Off-Broadway, and that is exhilarating enough. “Getting on a stage is such a huge and valid mode of expression for me,” she says. “ I love it. There’s nothing better.”
For the last 15 years, Halliday has collaborated with composers and musical directors to put together one-woman cabaret revues. “I figured, after I took some time off to raise my daughter, that if I wanted to perform, I’d have to create something to perform in.” (Her tribute to Mary Martin, produced last fall, will likely be produced next season at the York Theatre.)
“I’m a work in progress,” Halliday says. “Being onstage is so addictive. I can understand people who can’t stop gambling. And because I don’t have to depend on this for a living, I can keep pursuing it.
“You just have to keep moving forward and reinventing yourself,” she says. “I’ve written a play, with Gretchen Cryer as my mentor, and we just did a reading of it with Austin Pendelton, Betty Aberlin, Dana Brooke, and Jim Hindman. It went very well; I think this play is going to get done.
“As you grow older, you let go of some things,” she muses. “But there are many more aspects to all of us. As you grow older, you think, ‘Hey, I’m smart, and I could channel my talents in some other way that could benefit me as well.’ So it’s important to explore other avenues.
“And I think we can give respect to ourselves. We don’t have to be strident, but we can do new things. Without fear.”