The lights dim. Rapt attention focuses the people as the first actor takes the stage.
This scene paints out again and again across the country at scores of amazing theaters in large cities where world class actors converge to entertain the people. Yet, there are smaller, under patroned venues like The McKeesport Little Theater that, forgo all that typical pomp. The playhouse resides in an older residential neighborhood not at all like anything you would expect. No, this little gem overlooks the Youghiogheny River like a Mountain Lion perched majestically upon the top of a hill marking its territory. Few know of this venue, nor the effort it takes by those who support the theater that allow it to thrive.
If you decide to give this venue a chance you will be rewarded with its latest production of the comedic show, Lunch Lady Cabaret, a new creation by Brian Edward. Edward once again, has found a home within The McKeesport Little Theater. This Author, now a veteran, wrote and directed a previous show, Amish Burlesque, which debuted last year on the very same stage. Maintaining purity to his genre, he has put together another work of comedy.
You’ve heard the claim before, “there are no bad seats”, and at the Little Theater you will find this cliché to be true. There are three banks of seven rows of comfortable, well maintained theater chairs forming a semi-circle around the performance. This stage seems to jut out grabbing at the audience pulling them into the happenings.
The show begins by harkening us back to those days of the high school cafeteria where under the direction of Soapy, the janitor, as played by Sean David Butler directs the audience on a comedic trip of sub-par food and the nostalgia of a simpler time. Soapy introduces us to Mavis, Gladys, Doris, and Agnes who serve up a menu brimming with song, dance, and laughter.
Each of the castmembers brings their own particular attributes and talents that create a show that just might surprise you. Gladys, played by Hope Anthony made her debut at MLT and she has quite the voice. Her thrilling vocals charmed the audience as they enjoyed her performance. Tim Tolbert, a veteran actor has been cast in the role of Doris. That’s right, Tim’s a man. Ah, the comic relief yet he does bring the smiles even if the full beard seems a bit much. Megan May plays the oddly charming Agnes, who has quite the list of performances on her resume. In spite of this, she looked lost in her current effort, but perhaps that’s really a matter of the role as opposed to the skill of the woman. The final member of The Lunch Ladies’ cadre has been left to the stand out Mavis. The role of Mavis fell to the colorful Kimberly Lynn Janosko. Kimberly has had many acting positions throughout her life, and she has held positions behind the scenes in support of the arts. Most recently, she found herself on the board of directors for the McKeesport Little Theater. Hence, there should be little surprise she wells with pride at finding herself playing Mavis. Mavis ads a powerful splash of color to the stage with her alcohol excesses, the constant cigarette in her mouth, and her three foot high blue hair quite fitting for a woman aged between 70 and 90.
The audience loved Mavis, yet sometimes an author can become so enamored with one character’s eccentrics that perhaps they forget to fully develop the others. Did this happen here? Mavis most certainly stole the show, or perhaps the actress’s talents were just that good.
The theater does have great seating, but this posed a problem as the acoustics are such that the performers needn’t sing very loud, or perhaps shout out their lines as the tones, words, and vocals will easily carry throughout the space. Hence, the audience can be overpowered by the random reverberations that bounced about hindering the effect of actors. The show did not rely on much in the way of technical support as the effects were almost non-existent, and the lighting performed well.
The stage, although not overly large, had been used effectively as the five stars were often on the stage together, and they all fit nicely. Hence, a small show can be very effective at this venue, but larger more daring performances might struggle. Lunch Lady Cabaret fit just right. Maybe the author built his show for the venue knowing he would have access? Who can say?
In the end, if you are looking for an outlandish play or musical with the latest in theater technology, well, this may not be the venue for you. However, if you are the adventurous sort and would like to see something a bit different and support a most worthwhile endeavor then The McKeesport Little Theater with its Lunch Lady Cabaret might just be the thing to shake off the chills and prepare yourself for spring. Take a chance, and enjoy the little theater at the top of a hill. Why not take in a show a little bit different, and find a way to laugh.
Special thanks to the McKeesport Little Theater for complimentary press tickets. The show runs one more weekend, with shows on the 20th-22nd. Tickets can be purchased here.
Correction: The original published article stated there was prerecorded music for the show while there was actually a live band backstage. We apologize for any confusion.