Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Lyric Theatre takes shows outdoors at Myriad Gardens with 'Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret' and 'Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret'
A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Cabaret comeback: Lyric Theatre plans outdoor shows for families and adults after canceling season due to coronavirus
On Lyric Theatre's Facebook page, Professor Matt and Gerti are arguing the relative merits of macaroni and cheese or rainbow sandwiches, eventually polling a couple of puppet pals before fixing lunch.
After months of inviting youngsters to play through social media video, the stars of "Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse" - Gerti, a lively blue-coiffed youngster played by Emily J. Pace, and the professor, a wild-haired wise man portrayed by Matthew Alvin Brown - soon will be cooking up their usual musical merriment live.
"When the pandemic hit, we decided to do online programming. And it made sense to reach out to children who were, at that time, on lockdown at home, to ease their fears about what was happening in the world and create a children's show online that could change every week based on what was happening with not only the virus but in the country as a whole," said Lyric Producing Artistic Director Michael Baron.
"It's been a really positive moment in a very confusing world ... so now we've figured out how to bring Emily and Matt to the stage ... in a big way so that children and families can see these folks in person and enjoy the songs live and have, frankly, a safe activity to go to outside their house at this time.
After nearly a six-month absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, Lyric Theatre will be among the first professional theaters in the country to resume live performances this month at the Myriad Botanical Gardens Water Stage. The nonprofit theater is taking musical programming for both adults and youngsters to downtown Oklahoma City with the Sept. 17-Oct. 4 premiere of "Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret" and "Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret."
"Myriad Gardens is delighted to partner with Lyric so our outdoor facility can help them offer their always-quality entertainment. We can’t wait to see our Water Stage at Myriad Gardens come alive with Lyric Theatre’s vibrant performances for all ages with their children’s 'Clubhouse' shows and evening cabarets," said Maureen Heffernan, president and CEO of the Myriad Gardens Foundation, in an email.
Lyric Theatre announced in April that it was postponing all remaining shows on its 2020 subscription season to 2021 due to the pandemic. Along with postponing an anticipated spring world premiere of the Native American music "Distant Thunder," the nonprofit arts organization didn't put on a summer season of musical theater for the first time in 56 years.
"Theaters around the country are doing cabarets outside at different venues all over, so we're joining them," Baron said. "We have a strict safety policy for both the audience and performers, so we're excited to return. ... It should be a great, refreshing, fresh-air theater experience."
He called working with Heffernan and the Myriad Gardens staff "a total pleasure."
"We wanted a venue that was a first-class venue with reserved seating so that we could guarantee where people were seating and make sure they were socially distanced. What was also appealing about it is that it's outside and I feel - and the industry feels - that it's safest to do theater outside in any form, especially in cabaret form," Baron said.
"In addition, it just naturally has a safety barrier with the moat around the stage. So, there's always plenty of distance between the performers and the patrons."
The Water Stage theater seats about 600 people, but Baron said Lyric is only going to make available about 100 tickets per performance. At least three seats will be left empty between each party, and every other row will be vacant. Lyric will require attendees, including children, to wear masks until they're seated, undergo temperature checks and answer safety questions.
"It's a lovely venue that we're excited to move into. it's a beautiful setting: You're right in the middle of the gardens in downtown. I think it's just going to be a really uplifting, heartwarming place to go in this uncertain time," Baron said.
Day and night
Lyric is planning both day and night performances on the Water Stage.
The family-friendly "Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret," a live musical event based on Lyric’s popular virtual series, will be staged at 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 2 and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays Sept. 17-Oct. 4.
For the grown-ups, "Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret" will feature a rotating lineup of talented local singers performing beloved Broadway songs at 7 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays during the three-week run.
"A cabaret usually is shorter; they tend to be an hour with no intermission. Cabarets are more focused on the music, and usually at cabarets, the performers talk directly to the audience ... as opposed to when you're observing a play," Baron said. "The good thing about cabarets, too, is there's no costume changes to do back stage. ... All the cabaret performers will come already dressed as will the 'Clubhouse' performers."
Launched in the spring in response to the pandemic, the "Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse" web series garners more than 1,000 views a week.
"Not only are Matt and Emily talented but because they're a couple and living in the same household, we've been able this whole time to film all these episodes having them unmasked and right next to each other. ... The original episodes were actually filmed at Matt and Emily's house, and we dropped off costumes on their doorstep and gave them the camera. We then, after a few weeks, figured out a way to safely build a studio set for the Clubhouse here in our rehearsal hall ... and then we started adding depth to the show," Baron said.
"The intent of the show was not only to be online, but we knew when we were returning to the stage in some form that we would be able to use this as a springboard to perform live."
For "Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret," each week's shows will have a different lineup, director from Lyric's staff and music director from one of the local universities. The performers will include Lyric favorites, familiar faces from the central Oklahoma theater scene and theater students.
Mandy Jiran, Vince Leseney, Michael Andreaus, Stephen Hilton, Cristela Carrizales, Lexi Windsor, Charlie Monnot, Renee Anderson and Campbell Walker Fields will be among the singers who take the stage in socially distanced fashion.
"They're super excited, and I know our subscribers and new audience members are going to be so happy to see some live music, particularly from musical theater," Baron said.
In May, Lyric Theatre laid off more than half of its full-time employees - cutting its staff from 24 people to nine - due to the pandemic. Baron said the theater has hired back four of those full-time staffers to work on the autumn shows.
"We're going to start small with these cabarets and go from there. But it's exciting to finally be back with a staff producing theater and live shows," he said.
"Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret"
When: 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 2 and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays Sept. 17-Oct. 4.
Where: Myriad Gardens Water Stage, 301 W Reno Ave.
"Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret"
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays Sept. 17-Oct. 4.
Where: Myriad Gardens Water Stage.
Information: www.LyricTheatreOKC.org or 524-9312.