Christmas is coming, and if you don’t believe it, you could ask Mark Watkins. Or Lupe Izzo. Or Mario Batali.
What do a Northern Michigan TV meteorologist, the wife of Michigan State’s basketball coach, and a celebrated chef have in common? And how does it relate to the holiday season?
They are among the performers who will celebrate the season at the City Opera House in Traverse City Dec. 18 and 19.
A Christmas Cabaret features the above-named plus six Broadway veterans and other performers in a show created by Greg Ganakas. Ganakas is a Michigan native, the son of former MSU basketball coach Gus Ganakas, and despite living in New York City for nearly 30 years, he still returns home for Christmas.
“I spend most of my Christmases in East Lansing,” said Ganakas. “I get to see my family, get to enjoy the community.”
And now he gets to share that with others.
“This is a Michigan Christmas, within a story of being snowed in. To me it’s Home for the Holidays,” he said.
The show had its genesis in Izzo Goes to Broadway, a 2009 presentation at the Wharton Center in East Lansing that was part of the Coaches Vs. Cancer fundraiser. Ganakas wrote and directed the event, which starred MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo, his wife Lupe, and numerous other performers from the Lansing area and Ganakas’s Broadway connections.
“I wasn’t sure where it would lead,” Ganakas says of that event.
While Coach Izzo has since ducked out—busy working with the Spartans—his wife is still part of the show.
“I went to school with Lupe. I knew she had taken dance,” Ganakas said.
The premise of the show is that a blizzard is engulfing the area, as reported by Watkins. That brings out the performer in those stranded by the storm, with songs including Christmas favorites, jazz, pop, and Broadway tunes.
There’s even a singalong for the crowd to get involved.
In addition to the performers, Ganakas enlisted the help of his friend Jersey Boys conductor Keith Thompson, who crafted the musical arrangements. There’s even a skit with crabby carolers, that gives it kind of a New York City slant, Ganakas said with a laugh.
The Broadway performers include Nicolette Hart ( Million Dollar Quartet, Rent, Legally Blonde, The Wedding Singer); Stephen Carrasco (Ghost, Billy Elliot, White Christmas); Dwayne Clark (Spiderman Turn off the Dark, In the Heights, Tarzan, Urinetown the Musical, Smokey Joe's Cafe, Rent); Janeece Freeman Clark (Dittydoodle Works, Urinetown the Musical); David Josefberg (The Wedding Singer, Grease, Les Miserables); and Elizabeth Stacey (Grease, All Shook Up).
Denise Busley of the Grand Traverse Pie Company and other local musicians and dancers will also be involved, and Ganakas promises other surprises as well.
“Mario Batali did a shout-out for fun. He loves Traverse City. And he and Denise Busley know each other. I had no idea,” said Ganakas.
This is the third year Ganakas has presented the show. In addition to the City Opera House and its original home at the Wharton Center in East Lansing, it has also been staged in Grand Rapids. Ganakas hopes it is an evergreen that can be done yearly in cities across the state.
“We want to take it to the communities,” he said. “It’s all Michigan-based, that’s the charm of it.
“I would love for it to come back to Traverse City, East Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit—it’s got that kind of staying power.”
Patrons can choose from cabaret table seating with hosted bar service on the orchestra level or theater seating in the balcony. Some content may not be suitable for all ages.
Tickets range from $30 to $48, students $15. Call 231.941.8082 or visit cityoperahouse.org