By Larry Laneer
March 28, 2021
Attention theatergoers! Lyric Theatre is back on the boards—well, concrete—at the Myriad Gardens Water Stage with a new, cabaret-style show and, brother, is it a welcome sight to behold. The bulkily titled Denise Lee: Pressure Makes Diamonds features none other than Denise Lee and a crack, four-piece combo in a pleasing production that way outshines anything you might see on Zoom.
A Dallas-based singer and actor, Lee has been seen here before. She was in three Lyric shows and played Gary Coleman in Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s Avenue Q in 2016.
Her strong voice and engaging stage presence, honed through years of cabaret experience, give Lee the chops to hold the stage—and the audience—by herself. She has selected an eclectic program. Most of the songs are not the usual standards. A soulfully sung “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the most well-known. It’s great to hear the immortal “Pig’s Foot and a Bottle of Beer.” A feisty song subtitled “Musical Apology” (the title is far too long for here) shows the singer as someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. “Push Da Button” delights in double-entendre.
Lee and Monique Midgette, who also directs, wrote the between-song banter. Lee explains the show’s title early on. It’s mostly light stuff, but parts are deadly serious or poignant. The account of an ugly incident when Lee was a college freshman in 1979 at East Texas State University in Commerce leads to “I Gotta Sing My Song.” Midgette staged last year’s, pre-pandemic Having Our Say for Lyric.
The company has not skimped on any part of this production. Kimberly Powers’s clean, simple scenic design fits the cabaret format neatly. Lighting designer Fabian J. Garcia has illuminated every part of the park visible to the audience. The full moon at the reviewed performance held its own. The men in the band wear matching black suits and neckties with white shirts. Lee’s dress sparkles diamondlike (costumes are by Jeffrey Meek). The show runs around 75 minutes without intermission, which is about right. Shows should leave the audience wanting more, not wanting to get out of there.
Lyric has put together a 2021 season that in normal times would leave theatergoers mainly nonplused. Nunsense at the Water Stage, Grease at a high school football stadium, for example. On the other hand, the company is staging the first local production of Terrence McNally’s 1995 Master Class, long overdue here. But these are about as far from normal times as you can get, so theatergoers should appreciate the effort. At least, Lyric is doing something when other theater companies shut down or stuck to fundraising. The company’s board, management, and artists get full credit. They are one of a handful of theater companies in the country who are operating right now. And do we ever need it.
Denise Lee: Pressure Makes Diamonds