Dallas — Stepping into the lobby of the beautifully restored Majestic Theatre, with its gilded ceilings, huge mirrors and glittering chandeliers is a trip into downtown Dallas’s most glamorous history. This weekend you can boost that experience with a terrific lineup of singers and musicians taking the stage to take you back to the songs and comedy acts of this plush venue in its golden performance days.
Lyric Stage founder and producer Steven Jones celebrates the award-winning company’s shift of venues last year from Irving to the Majestic with Majestic Unplugged, a classy all-acoustic concert of songs dating from the theater’s opening in 1921 as a vaudeville house through its closing as a movie palace in 1973.
Eight stylish singers familiar to Lyric Stage audiences appear, together with guest vocal artist Cynthia Clawson, a 1981 Grammy Award-winning gospel singer whose rendition of “Softly and Tenderly” enhanced the soundtrack for the 1985 film The Trip to Bountiful. We hear them all sing in over 30 solos, duets and as a rich-voiced company, directed by Bruce Greer (spiffy in sharp spats at the piano), conductor of the eight-person orchestra in formal dress seated on risers behind the performers.
Popular musical theater tenor Max J. Swarner sets a warm, festive tone for the evening, opening the concert with “Pure Imagination,” from the 1970 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Surprising and delightful, Swarmer’s voice and personality radiate more intimately from the stage to the audience with the electronic fence removed. All evening, and with all the singers, we hear the inflections and tones of the voices so directly it feels they are singing to each of us, and we’re all enjoying the connection.
A steamy or funny mood for the duets from musicals and movies are created on the spot by these pros, who walk on the stage, cue quickly to Greer’s excellent orchestration, and launch into a love song. Christopher J. Deaton and Kristen Lassiter are shy, then passionate singing “Only Make Believe” from Hammerstein and Kern’s 1927 Show Boat. In the second act, Swarner and full-voiced mezzo Felecia Benton turn up the heat in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from Frank Loesser’s 1948 Neptune’s Daughter.
Andy Baldwin, a strong singer and endearing comic, had the audience cheering and applauding with his hip-swiveling, soft-shoe rendition of “Ballin’ the Jack” from Burris and Smith’s Ziegfeld Follies (1913). Later, Baldwin, in black and white saddle oxfords and a striped suit, winks at an audience member in a front row seat and sings “Yessir, That’s My Baby,” a Kahn and Donaldson hit from 1925. Baldwin cracks old jokes about criminal in-laws and sudden telegrams from 1920s radio shows with a fresh, smarty-pants delivery. Both romantic songs and comedy numbers remind us of how innocent we were in that era. Children, flirting with our honeys and laughing at sweet, silly jokes.
Flexing girl power and a svelte, alluring figure is Daron Cockerell in a silver lamé gown ringing memory bells with “The Trolley Song” from Martin and Blane’s 1944 Meet Me in St. Louis. Lassiter is a rapture to behold in her delicately phrased “Alice Blue Gown” from McCarthy and Tierney’s 1927 Broadway hit Irene. Christine Cornish Smith sings a seductive “Always True to You” from Cole Porter’s 1948 Kiss Me, Kate. Her lithe, high-kicking dancing gets mid-performance applause and hoozahs.
Featured star Clawson’s voice was clear but thin singing “Over the Rainbow “(Harburg and Arlen’s 1939 The Wizard of Oz) and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 Carousel). The gospel artist was most compelling in her rapt and touching rendition of “Nearer My God to Thee,” accompanied by Greer on accordion and joining her as alto in a moving duet.
Swarner and company close the first act with a joyous “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” from Sherman and Sherman’s 1964 Mary Poppins. Two dozen songs later, everybody gathers round the piano and sings a cheery Christmas medley.
For the closing finale, audience-pet Andy Baldwin leads the company with a wistful “Thanks for the Memory,” from Robin and Rainger’s 1938 The Big Broadcast.
Right back atcha, you sweet, sentimental, wildly talented bunch, you.