Glass Half Full, Michael Kirk Lane’s recent show at Don’t Tell Mama was a needed tonic for the angst and upset that have affected many of us in the last couple of years, especially since, well...you know.
A familiar presence in the world of cabaret and piano bar for almost 10 years, Michael Kirk Lane is a two-time MAC Award nominee, was a singing waiter, manager and host of “The Show Tune Room,” at Don’t Tell Mama, and is currently the House Manager at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. Beyond the realm of cabaret, he’s also a Teaching Artist with Wingspan Arts, and Associate Producer of No Strings Productions, which makes puppet films for children in troubled areas of the world.
Glass Half Full began with Lane bounding onto the stage in a burst of cheery, glass-half-full energy. He opened the show with Bret McKenzie’s “Life’s a Happy Song,” and sang ‘Life’s a happy song with someone by your side to sing along,’ while right by his side, singing along, were the fantastic Laura Pavles and Sean Bernardi on backing vocals, and William TN Hall at the piano. Together, they created a jovial mood, putting smiles on our faces almost immediately. The next number, the well known “High Hopes” by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen, spoke of persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, with Lane pointing out that this was the point of his show - trying to find the hope and humor in a world that has, of late, become increasingly bleak.
That hope and humor was challenged, however, by a series of Trump news flashes, that led him into “He’s a Trump,” a parody of Peggy Lee’s “He’s a Tramp,” with new lyrics by Elaine Brier and Lane himself. William Finn’s “Republicans” provided some great laughs, particularly when Lane sang about a sexual encounter with a Republican, and while screwing him, felt that ‘it’s nice to have the roles reversed!’ The subject of how divided and combative we are as a nation was exemplified humorously by Kander & Ebb’s “Class,” with Lane and Sean Bernardi bemoaning the state of the world and the overall awfulness of today’s generation. Playing off each other beautifully, their delivery, accented with lots of eye-rolls and deep sighs was priceless!
Paul Simon’s “My Little Town” provided the framework for a story of Lane’s recent trip back home. The repetitive refrain of ‘Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town,’ painted a bleak picture of his old surroundings, which was especially pointed when he revealed he hails from Flint, Michigan, a town which is still suffering, unfortunately. This darker, more introspective side of Lane was new to me, and he surprised me with his dramatic skills. But while he created a palpable, sorrowful mood that was quite effective, the song never really ended; it just sort of trailed off and went into the next bit of patter. A more solid, punch-in-the-gut ending might have strengthened the song’s overall impact.
Theorizing that some people turn to religion to help them through times of emotional upheaval, Lane then gave us Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” and turned the cabaret into an evangelical revival meeting, complete with a comedic moment where one of the faithful got the holy spirit and spoke in tongues! My only criticism here, was that in imitating Diamond’s vocal growl, Lane’s enunciation suffered, and I couldn’t make out the lyrics.
We heard a fun, but somewhat disjointed “Epic Broadway Medley,” which featured snippets of more than 23 separate show tunes, and a rousing rendition of “Motherhood,” from Hello Dolly, that had Lane, Pavles, and Bernardi marching center stage, proudly affirming their beliefs and political stances. This was followed by one of the most moving moments of the evening, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Lane made the point that positive political changes are, in fact, happening - a fact which should give us all hope to push through this difficult time. The number was presented quietly and beautifully, and at one point, when Hall joined the others in four-part harmony, the song felt like a prayer.
Michael Kirk Lane has an honest, open, vulnerable quality onstage, and a herky-jerky physicality that makes him instantly likable. Director Jay Rogers harnessed those qualities, and crafted a show that demonstrated both sides of Lane - sweet and funny, yet still worried about our future. Additionally, the interaction between everyone onstage felt natural and unforced - they were all friends and enjoying what they were doing, and that easygoing friendliness gave us a sense of comfort, even in the face of the darker details the show brought up.
So, as the show ended, there was only one last message, in the form of the perfect encore, “Laughing Matters,” by Dick Gallagher and Mark Waldrop. With beautiful simplicity, Lane sang ‘...problems with no answers hang on like some nagging cough, and everyday some brand new issue rears it’s head to piss you off.’ But, he implored, ‘keep your humor please, ‘cause don’t you know it’s times like these that laughing matters most of all!’
And that’s good advice from a guy with a Glass Half Full attitude!
Michael Kirk Lane returns to Don’t Tell Mama on September 10th at 7 PM with an encore performance of Glass Half Full.