Michael Kirk Lane

February 25, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

“Songs from the Rock, the Street, and the Hood”

Don’t Tell Mama – February 7, 9, and 16

It took me a while to warm up to Michael Kirk Lane in this return of his debut show featuring songs from classic children’s television programs. But halfway through the set, in the final part of a dance-music medley, he performed the Joe Raposo song “Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco.” It certainly wasn’t the most elegantly rendered turn ever in cabaret history. But it was a dollop of absurd, chuckle-worthy fun. At that point, me think me turned the corner with Lane.

The “Rock,” “Street,” and “Hood in the show’s title are, respectively, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street, and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, TV programs that Lane and his generation grew up with. His particular enchantment with the shows and their songs, though, carried over into Lane’s adulthood. As he explained it, when other guys were feeling antsy about going all the way with girls, he was concentrating on scoring a copy of the Elmopalooza soundtrack.

Lane’s show tapped into the same kind of snarky-yet-sweet mischief found in the 2003 hit Broadway musical Avenue Q. That show famously used the sensibility of an innocent kiddie program with puppets to depict the lives of young adults trying to stay afloat in a challenging (and sometimes downright nasty) world. Similarly, in Lane’s program, Raposo’s “The Fruit Song” took on a gay subtext (without Lane’s changing a word). And “Everyone Makes Mistakes” (Jeff Moss) became an occasion for Lane and featured performer Heidi Weyhmueller to confess their most embarrassing moments of post-adolescent drunkenness.

I sense that the Avenue Q pose is a harder one to strike than most people would imagine—that it’s a balancing act. It’s easy to grow a little too smug, to hit the irony so hard that you practically hear the inverted commas clank into place over the lyrics. And some of that happened with Lane. At times, his angelic smile seemed to have a bit of a sneer behind it. He may love these breezily naïve songs, but putting them in an adult context edges him close to an attitude that ridicules innocence. And, really, once a guy’s voice has changed, how can he avoid getting a bit campy when singing songs with titles like “I Love Trash” (Moss) or “The Batty Bat” (Raposo)?

One answer is simply to hop in the boat and ride on the buoyancy of the melodies—a strategy Lane seemed to adopt much of the time (including with “Me Lost Me Cookie…”). The songs (and fragments of songs) heard in the show ran the gamut from reggae (Norman Stiles and Christopher Cerf’s “Do de Rubber Duck”) to country-tinged gospel (Philip Balsam and Dennis Lee’s “Is It True?”) to calypso (Mark Saltzman’s “Caribbean Amphibian”). The evening’s most pleasing surprise for me came in hearing the charm of melodies I didn’t know. Raposo’s best-known songs (“Sing (Sing a Song)” and “Bein’ Green”) have long had a life outside of their original Sesame Street setting. Lane helped make the case that there are other good songs from these programs that are worthy of becoming standards as well.

Not surprisingly, Lane came off as most sincere when he performed ballads—particularly Moss’s “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” and Fred Rogers’s “It’s You I Like” (presented as a parent’s response to a gay child’s coming out). I also enjoyed the harmonies Lane created with Weyhmueller and pianist/musical director William TN Hall on “We Are All Earthlings” (Moss and Sara Compton, with additional lyrics by Lane’s director, Steven Strafford).

Lane has a hardy voice, with a purr-like vibrato at moments. There could be better nuance to his singing. But that may come when he leaves behind the duo of Bert and Ernie and moves on to such teams as Rodgers and Hart, Lerner and Loewe, and Simon and Garfunkel.

 

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. His features and reviews have appeared in such publications as American Theatre and Back Stage and on BistroAwards.com. As a dramaturg he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. His stage adaptation of Henry James's novel The Tragic Muse was part of the Gilded Stage Festival at the Metropolitan Playhouse in January 2014.

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