How do you create an intimate performance in the sprawling Lucas Theatre?

That was the question organizers asked last summer, and their solution proved to be an inspired answer to the dilemma. On Stage at the Lucas turns the tables, putting the audience on par with the performers to look out onto the empty theater for a smaller, cabaret-style show.

The idea proved to be a great success, so the Lucas expanded the series this summer. I had the opportunity to experience the July 24 cabaret featuring Savannah band City Hotel.

As you enter the theater through the backstage door, it immediately feels clandestine, adding to the speakeasy atmosphere. Complimentary tasty bites await and a cash/credit bar offers a variety of wine and beer.

Audience members ranged from children to older adults, and a few appeared to be families spanning the generations. You'll also find groups of friends and young couples dressed up for a night out.

The boys of City Hotel (Jay Rudd on banjo, Anthony Teixeira on upright bass, Cory Chambers on mandolin and Aaron Zimmer on guitar) made their way through the crowd to start up the first of two 45-minute sets.

From original compositions to Hank Williams tunes to interesting covers - whoever chose "Groove is in the Heart" is a genius - City Hotel kept the audience either tapping its toes or dancing along with the band. They know just how to blend their instruments and voices to take listeners back to the beginnings of bluegrass.

The proximity allows viewers to see and hear all the nuances that might be missed in a more traditional concert setting, such as musicians looking to each other for cues while playing or banter between songs. It was also wonderful to get previews of some of the songs set for City Hotel's next album, which will be recorded in August.

Viewers are even encouraged to ask questions or make requests, and dancing is certainly welcome. Some of the kids in attendance danced the night away and seemed to be having a blast. I think the same could be said for the rest of the audience, not to mention the band itself.

Theater management listened to its patrons' recommendations, according to Erin Muller, community relations manager and production coordinator at the Lucas. She said audience feedback led them to change the start time from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. - which benefits those trying to make it downtown after work - and also lowered the admission price a bit.

With those small changes, I think it's safe to say the Lucas has a hit on its hands. There are several more cabarets this summer, so don't miss out on this unique experience.