BWW Interview: Michael Kirk Lane of A CHRISTMAS WISH at Don't Tell Mama
Michael Kirk Lane has show business in his blood. His interest in the arts started when he was just five years old - maybe that is why there is such a childlike wonder to his personality, his shows and his outlook on life. With a few MAC award nominations and some other awards on his shelf at home, Mr. Lane spends all his days working in different capacities of the industry, whether it be onstage performing, house managing at The Laurie Beechman Theatre, or serving as associate producer for No Strings Productions (you guessed it, it involves puppets), and he always brings his trademark warmth and optimism to whichever role he is playing.
All of the MKL love and generosity, humor and whimsy will be on display on December 16th at beloved Midtown Manhattan cabaret nightclub Don't Tell Mama when Michael and his chums serve up a healthy dose of Christmas cheer in the show A CHRISTMAS WISH. Of course there will be Christmas music, but with Michael leading the way, there can be no question that there will be a great deal of laughter as well.
Many Christmas concerts have a charity tie-in, but when this writer saw the name of MKL's charity, THE BACKSTAGE SOCIETY at Siena Heights University, my interest was piqued. Michael is well-known to have a background in teaching, and any person who teaches, any person who raises money for an educational organization, they have a mission based on a very special constitution, and I think that's something we can all agree on. So I emailed Michael, only to discover he was actually in Michigan at Siena Heights doing a version of A CHRISTMAS WISH as a fundraiser for the University!
So, in the middle of the night, after a grueling day of travel and rehearsals, Michael and I exchanged some messages online that turned into a full-fledged interview about his career, his alma mater, his show and Christmastime.
This interview has been edited for space and content.
Michael, you have a Christmas show coming up at Don't Tell Mama on December 16th called A Christmas Wish. Is this a show that you do every year?
MKL: This is the first time I'll be doing a Christmas show in the city! Pieces of this show were created for one performed in my hometown two years ago, and other pieces were chosen for a special performance I'm doing on Saturday, December 7th, at my Alma Mater, Siena Heights University. There are still a few songs that will be just in the NYC show, as different material plays well there, rather than in Michigan. I'm excited to share what my musical director, William TN Hall and I have cooked up!
Is the show so titled after a song you sing or is it a general theme of the evening?
MKL: There is a song in the program that shares the same title as my show. The lyric to the song is a partial theme to the evening, I suppose. It is a song about how, no matter our beliefs or our lot in life, this time of year is a time to unite and celebrate each other.
What is it that makes you want to do a Christmas show?
MKL: The impetus this year was that I was asked to headline and curate a program for my Alma Mater. The university is celebrating its centennial, and they are hosting 100 events for 100 years, so the show there is one of the 100 events. I'm joined in Michigan by some other fantastic Alumni of the university's theatre program. When William, my music director, and I started to talk about the Michigan show, while we were performing my show Just Because this fall, we decided we should share some of the material with our friends and logical family here in NYC.
Is it difficult to find audiences for a show during December, when there are so many other distractions in peoples' lives?
MKL: As this is my first Christmas outing, I'd say ask me on Dec. 17th....but as a manager of a cabaret space, and as someone who has sung backup for a few Christmas shows in years past, I think that if audiences know you, and trust your sensibility they will come see ,no matter the time of year. Ask me on Dec 17th if I was right....
Tell me about your guest artists in the show Christmas Wish.
MKL: Well I'm thrilled to have some dear friends join me on the show! Jon Satrom has been one of my best friends for years, part of my family from when I worked in the piano bars full time. He is a fantastic vocalist. You can see him singing and slinging at Don't Tell Mama and Brandy's on various nights, and he is one of the members of the new cabaret singing group Mama's Boys. He's sung backup for me in some of my shows before and I'm so happy for us to get to really sing together this time around. Then we have the duo that is Leslie Cararra-Rudolph and Lolly Lardpop. Leslie is a force of nature, a modern day Lucy/Carol Burnett/Marry Poppins/Monty Python. I've had the thrill of playing in her playground in some of her shows at The Beechman -- She has a monthly residency called Bizarre Brunch that begins again on February 15th, and I am over the moon that she said yes to bring her joy and creativity to my show for a number or two. Of course, wherever Leslie goes, her right hand lady Lolly Lardpop is always right there with her.
I understand there is a charity tie in as well - would you like to tell me a little bit about The Backstage Society?
MKL: Yes, a portion of the proceeds from the show will benefit the Backstage Society at Siena Heights University. The Backstage Society is what the university calls donors to the Theatre Department. Since this year's show was originally designed as a benefit performance at the university it only seemed right to tie the fundraising into the New York show as well, but there are some differences in the set lists between the two shows. Siena, and especially the theatre department there, will always have a special place in my heart. I would not be who I am today without Siena, the people there, and the strong mission of the University. I actually served as the President of the Alumni Association for a few years, and was the recipient of the university's 2018 Outstanding Alumni Award. My ties there remain strong, so this is just a way of giving back a little more.
With all the Christmas shows being mounted right now, what artistic choices did you make to see to it that Christmas Wish is special and unique?
MKL: I think it holds true to this art form we call Cabaret, not just at Christmas but throughout the year, that each artist needs to bring their own unique voice to the stage through both content and theme whenever they decide to put on a show. Beyond that, I don't know that I want to give too much away about the setlist before people arrive. William and I are pretty happy with what we've put together and hopefully our audience will be as well.
Will you be spending your holiday here in New York or will you be traveling to see your kinfolk?
MKL: I spent Thanksgiving at home in Flint, Michigan prior to traveling to Siena for the performance there. There will be a whirlwind couple of weeks that include my New York performance and a full schedule of shows over at The Beechman, plus my teaching schedule. Then I'll fly out on December 23rd to go visit my brother and his family is Austin. By then I'm sure I'll be ready for a week of family and playing video games with my nephews.
Do you remember your first Christmas in New York City?
MKL: My first Christmas here was in 2006, I had only lived here two and a half months and was still a kid in a candy store, experiencing everything for the first time. It may be cliche, but the city truly is magical this time of year. Now, all these years later, even with as busy as it is, I always make time to visit the store windows, and the tree in Rockefeller Center.
When we are children we have a certain point of view when looking at Christmastime. How has the holiday changed for you in adulthood?
MKL: I try to keep that childlike optimism when it comes to the holidays --which is easier said than done, some years. Sometimes it's through watching my students get excited for the season (I work with elementary students each fall) or from the Christmas Morning excitement of my nephews, even though they are getting to be teenagers now. There's a lyric from a Carol Hall song I do in the show that says "but the greatest wonder of them all is not what's happening around you, it's the way you start to be" and that is true - the joy can be infectious if you let it.
I think the biggest change for me as an adult is missing old traditions with loved ones who are no longer with us. I was very close with my grandmother. She used to have all the grandkids and great-grandkids over - with no other adults - to bake cookies all day about a week before Christmas. We'd cut out the sugar cookies and frost them, but every year would also devolve from a Norman Rockwell picturesque event into a flour fight that left everything and everyone caked in white. We always, among many other photos, took one big posed group picture in front of the tree. Every year we would add the pictures into a photo album known as 'The Cookie Party Book.' About a year before she passed, Grandma had me scan all the photos and make a copy of the book for all the adult grandchildren. Our copies go from the early 80s and end with what would be the second-to-last cookie party. It's now a favorite tradition to go through the album every holiday to reminisce and watch us all grow up through the pages.
I'm a tourist, in New York for the holidays: in one sentence get me to come to the show Christmas Wish.
MKL: Honestly, if you're a tourist on your first Christmas in the city, I'd give you a list of all the other holiday "must sees" before I asked you to come to my show. But if you're a New Yorker, or maybe part of our Cabaret Community I'd say "Please join us for our eclectic and joyous look at the holidays as we share our Christmas Wish with you."
For all things Jon Satrom visit his Website