Theater review: Lyric Theatre puts on entertaining outdoor shows with 'Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret' and 'Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret' at downtown OKC's Myriad Gardens
A version of this review appears in Thursday's Life & Style section of The Oklahoman. To read my preview story about "Lyric Kids' Clubhouse Cabaret" and "Lyric's Moonlight Cabaret," click here.
Theater review: Lyric Theatre returns to live performances with 'Lyric Kids' Clubhouse Cabaret' and 'Lyric's Moonlight Cabaret'
If life is a cabaret - as Kander and Ebb once declared - it certainly hasn't been an especially entertaining one in 2020.
After six months largely devoid of live theater due to the coronavirus pandemic, Oklahoma City fans of the art form are undoubtedly starving for that singular experience of catching a show in person.
Despite the hunger of its fervent followers, Lyric Theatre isn't skimping on quality or safety this fall, presenting a pair of cabaret shows - "Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret," intended for families with young children, and "Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret," aimed at adult audiences - through Oct. 4 outside at the Myriad Botanical Gardens' Water Stage.
Among the first professional theaters in the country to resume live performances, Lyric is strictly limiting capacity, administering temperature checks, enforcing social distancing and requiring masks when ticketholders are not sitting in their seats. Both shows are performed without intermission.
One of my favorite local venues, the Water Stage boasts a signature wide moat perfect for social distancing, plus a dynamic downtown ambiance that adds a certain verve to any show.
Not that the performers needed any extra energy at the Sept. 17 opening performances of "Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret" and "Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret." The entertainers were effervescing with nearly as much anticipation as the audiences for the professional theater's first shows since the March 8 closing of the heartfelt two-woman play "Having Our Say" at its Plaza Theatre.
'Lyric Kids' Clubhouse Cabaret'
Since spring, Lyric has been building up its offerings for young audiences with "Lyric Kids' Clubhouse," a spirited video series centered on Gerti, a lively blue-coiffed youngster played by Emily J. Pace, and Professor Matt, a wild-haired wise man portrayed by Matthew Alvin Brown. These colorfully welcoming characters successfully make the leap from social media to live theater with "Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret."
Since Pace and Brown are a real-life couple, they can perform together without wearing masks or adhering to social distancing, and like the video series, their enthusiastic live show reveals a special understanding of and affection for children.
As with their weekly Facebook offerings, the interactive stage show boasts a theme: It's "Cabaret Day," and Professor Matt explains that a cabaret is a type of performance where people express themselves through song. Written by Lyric Producing Artistic Director Michael Baron with Pace and Brown, the "Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret" bubbles over with fizzy and fun original tunes that draw from alt-rock, pop and musical theater.
The songs and shows are designed to engage both children and adults, and my 4-year-old in particular was enthralled by Professor Matt and Gerti's 45-minute adventure around The Clubhouse. The pair to took a vote on what items they should pack for their outing, made a stop at Joke and Riddleville (opting to skip a jaunt to Ponca City on their map) and even ascended the stage's tower to act out a game of pretend involving a prop called the "Golden Sash-A of Bravery."
The actors took turns playing puppeteer - aided by Baron's cameos as a new caped and masked superhero character called "The Sanitizer" - with Brown's mustachioed Farmer Guthrie extolling the virtues of eating fruis and vegetables and Pace's three-eyed mystic Linda teaching some meditative breathing techniques to help with relaxation and stress relief.
Educational without becoming tedious and fun without being frenetic, "Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret" would be an excellent original offering at any time, but it's an especially welcome one during these pandemic days. But the afternoon time slot may prove difficult for some families to make, either because of their schedules on weekdays or because even in fall, the weather can still be a bit warm for an outside performance.
'Lyric's Moonlight Cabaret'
The Clubhouse's main round set piece rotates to reveal a huge smiling crescent, setting the stage for the evening offering, "Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret." A few glitzy lights and socially distanced stools are the only other scenery, but the effusive opening-night audience mostly seemed ready just to see familiar favorites and promising newcomers putting on a show.
"We feel it's been forever. This looks awesome," greeted Thomas E. Cunningham. "This is a momentous night for us. I hope it's a momentous night for you, too."
For each week of the three-week run, the "Moonlight Cabaret" boasts a different cast, director, musical director and theme. Helmed by Lyric Associate Artistic Director Ashley Wells, with Eric Grigg from University of Central Oklahoma providing musical direction and superb piano accompaniment, the first show boasted a 1970s theme, with the performers making their selections from the decade's pop, rock and musical theater hits.
Lyric stalwart Vince Leseney opened the cabaret in fitting fashion with Billy Joel's "Miami 2017" - which repeats the lyric "I've seen the lights go out on Broadway" - and closed it with Elton John's still-relevant "Border Song."
In between, he and wife Mandy Jiran - who stopped the show, per usual, with her powerhouse cover of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" - gave a winning reading of the Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond duet "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," with Leseney giving a witty apology for edging close to imitation, declaring "if you hear Neil Diamond, it's not my fault."
Along with some of the decade's big hits, the performers shared stories of their time with Lyric. Justin Larman showed off his versatility by zipping through Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" and then breaking hearts with the Streisand standard "The Way We Were." Cunningham channeled his cheeky humor into "I Don't Remember Christmas," from the musical revue "Starting Here, Starting Now," and then shifted into a sweet tribute to his wife with Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight."
Rocking a slinky silver dress and skyscraper red heels, Kat Metcalfe stole the show with her sexy rendition of Patti Smith's "Because the Night" and later soared with "Meadowlark" from the musical "The Baker's Wife." Newcomer Olivia Yokers (who was cast in the canceled summer production of "Matilda") made a solid Lyric debut with her cover of Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" and her affecting take on the "A Chorus Line" classic "What I Did for Love."
UCO students Erica Burkett and Skylar Hemenway didn't let the pros outshine them, turning Dolly Parton's "Jolene" into a smoldering duet, followed by Burkett's soulful version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Hemenway's pretty take on King's "Nightingale."
Naturally, a cabaret needs a big finish, and Leseney, Jiran and Cunningham's invitation to "Come Sail Away" with Styx's iconic smash was accepted not only by ticketholders but also by passersby who gathered above the seats and around the pond, drawn by the long-denied allure of live music expertly performed.
Taking a line from the Monty Python movie "Life of Brian," the cast left the audience with encouragement to "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," which is admittedly easier to do when life is a cabaret - or at least has live theater again offering some semblance of normality.
"Lyric Kids’ Clubhouse Cabaret"
When: 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 2 and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 4.
Where: Myriad Gardens Water Stage, 301 W Reno Ave.
"Lyric’s Moonlight Cabaret"
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Oct. 4.
Where: Myriad Gardens Water Stage.
Information: www.LyricTheatreOKC.org or 524-9312.