In its finest moments, karaoke—in Japanese, karappo okesutura or empty orchestra—converts the greasiest dive bar into a legendary nightspot and confers crooner status upon the drunks, degenerates and other human flotsam who compete.
Mr. Karaoke, the Maverick Theater's attempt to lure younger audiences to its downtown Fullerton space, preserves that oily charm; its host is the charismatically cheesy Erik Furuheim. And the vibe eschews the sad, dingy or depressing—perhaps because the Maverick isn't a dank bar with months-old maraschino cherries coagulating in a gelatinous, crimson stew. It's a theater/cabaret done up in a cool 1930s Art Deco style. And this is not the typical unfocused, amoebic, karaoke-thon, but rather a tightly-produced two-hour show with a host, judges and no more than 15 slots. Participants pay $2, do their thing, and get judged on everything from appearance and use of the space to whether they take themselves too seriously; the first-place winner walks home with 25 clams.
The result is a blast: Gong Show meets American Idol meets improv comedy. There are two judges (Aug. 19, it was Jamie Scheel and local theater actor/writer Jeremy Gable), but as with any karaoke lounge or bar, the participants bring it gloriously to life.
On this night in question, it emoted like a community-college theater-awards ceremony; unscarred by fortune, both crowd and performers were impossibly buoyant and enthusiastic.
Most of the participants were ringers, with voices to match their routines; but whether it was Madonna's "Material Girl," Eminem's "Stan" (delivered in hilarious fashion by Gable), or Maverick staple Nate Makaryk's gut-busting lip-synch medley, nearly every one was entertaining and eminently watchable.
Two young lasses singing an utterly forgettable hip hop-related number wound up winning. They had a great time doing it and richly deserved their first-place laurels. And they now advance to the upcoming Mr. Karaoke finals, where they'll compete for a $250 cash prize.
It's not quite as redeeming an experience as karaoke in a real dive bar—which can resemble the adrenalin rush you get after throwing up—but Mr. Karaoke looks much better. And it's a hell of a lot safer.
MR. KARAOKE AT THE MAVERICK THEATER, 110 E. WALNUT AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 526-7070. FRI., MIDNIGHT. FREE TO WATCH; $2 PER SONG TO PERFORM.