BWW Review: Michael Kirk Lane Fans Pack Don't Tell Mama JUST BECAUSE
On all the press literature for Michael Kirk Lane's latest show JUST BECAUSE one can read that the show was created because Mr. Lane had too much time on his hands this summer, so he and his team put together a show, just because. On the Don't Tell Mama website, the show page for JUST BECAUSE says the same thing. And during his show Mr. Lane repeats the phrase, even going so far as to tell his audience that the show was put the show together in six weeks and that they didn't know what the show was going to be.
Now, this is all just giving away too many secrets.
It may be one thing to decide to put up a new show because you are bored, or you have too much time on your hands, or you just need to create something, ANYthing. It may be another thing to pull together a new show in record time (six weeks is not a lot of time, truly). And it may be something else to begin working on a show that doesn't know what it is, in the hopes that it will grow into something. But when you tell your audience these facts, you have given them a glimpse behind the scenes, and now it is impossible for them to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" (or rather, the truth) - and that truth is that you just put on a show that has no arc, no story, no throughline, and no purpose, and they would never have known, had you not told them.
Michael Kirk Lane is lucky. He is one of the most likable people you are ever apt to meet, indeed on stage he is more than likable, he is lovable. He has an outgoing and fun disposition that makes him a joy to watch while he is performing; and though most of his material is comedy, there are moments when he sets aside The Clown and lets his audience see his vulnerability, lets them into a heart that is easily as big as his laugh. Michael Kirk Lane is lucky because his likable personality rides the wave of talent off the stage and out into the audience. With a clear and pretty voice that gets in your heart and makes you champion him, cheer for him, Michael is quite adept at making you feel something for him in those vulnerable moments that follow the funny ones. Michael Kirk Lane is lucky that he has a big fan base that always turns up for one of his shows, shows that have, twice, garnered for him MAC award nominations. They love him. They will take any crumb he throws them. This lucky one-two-three punch of likeability, talent, and fan base makes it possible for Michael Kirk Lane to put together a show "just because" -- something that less lucky people might carry off with less ease... or maybe not carry off at all.
JUST BECAUSE is a crazy quilt, a mixed bag, a crapshoot. Mr. Lane and his longtime team (director extraordinaire Jay Rogers and musical director supreme William TN Hall -- there you have even more luck) have gathered together an odd mixture of songs that may not necessarily string together a cohesive storyline, or even go together, but that are songs for which Mr. Lane has some affinity, and that simply has to be enough for Lane, the evening, and the fans. Among the eclectic collection of music are some real treats, like opening number "Another Curtain Goes Up" which Mr. Lane brilliantly updates with genius lyrics relating to his colleagues in the cabaret community: it's a perfect opening number -- and choosing the right opening number is not quite as easy as one would think. With the song "I Love Play Rehearsal" Michael Kirk really brings his audience right up into his lap and his arms, providing all with an entirely relatable story, because his gentle and wistful performance of the Joe Iconis song is about more than play rehearsal, it's about the struggle of being a kid and trying to fit in - and who among us didn't go through that? Watching the performance made this writer wish for a production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown starring Mr. Lane because he is a perfect choice to play the hero we all worshiped growing up, so endearing is he.
Although the first half of the show continues to be this smorgasbord of odd (and sometimes very odd) songs that demonstrate for all just how broad is Lane's sense of humor, oftentimes with an assist from prestigious members of the community like THOSE GIRLS, Mama's Boys, Mr. Hall and the legendary Sidney Myer, something happens about half-way through the evening when Michael Kirk Lane turns the stage over to his Grandmother. Suddenly, out of the darkness, comes Michael Kirk Lane's show, and it isn't there just because... it is there for love. There is a tangible change in Mr. Lane's behavior, in his speech pattern, in his facial expression when he speaks of her. With the arrival of his grandmother to the proceedings, Michael Kirk Lane also arrives, and he is beautiful. Talking about this Irish native Matriarch that he clearly adored, the woman who instilled in him his love of music, Lane shares heartwarming (and wrenching) stories about her death, the hilarity at her wake, and the legacy she gave him through The Lawrence Welk Show. Standing in a pool of light, blue to match the blue of his eyes, Michael gifts his audience with the song he sang on the day of the wake, the prettiest, most heartfelt Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral ever. This segment of the show is absolutely worth the price of admission, and though the festive fun of Fraggle Rock, the sassy silliness of Sesame Street and the merry mirth of Monty Python brings laughter to the crowd during the first half, it is the second half of JUST BECAUSE that the audience will remember.
I like Michael Kirk Lane. I like him a lot. I am glad I made seeing JUST BECAUSE a priority because I got to see what it is that makes him one of the most popular performers and people working in cabaret today, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. I had a good time, even if I think that "just because" is not a good enough reason to create a cabaret show. You've got to have a story, a purpose, a goal, even if the goal is to sing all of your favorite puppet-themed songs. It wouldn't be my choice, but there is an audience for it. There is an audience for every show. Disney. Muppets. Princesses. Animaniacs. There is always an audience for your show. It has to be a show, though, not just something created on the fly in your off time. I will tell you this, though: "just because" may not be a reason to create a show, but Michael Kirk Lane is certainly reason enough to see a show.
Photos by Stephen Mosher