“Mannnn, I hope I don’t get mugged” was my first thought as I pulled in alone to the parking lot behind The Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points. Being your typical, boring suburbanite it’s incredibly rare that I would venture to that area by myself at night, but I couldn’t turn down a plum assignment like “Big Mike’s Kingsized Holiday Jubilee.” It seemed safe enough, what with the loads of families that were streaming in from all around. I had explained to Ange that morning “My camera is still fubar and Santa’s sleigh has hit a delay in bringing a new one. (A pox on you U.S.P.S) You sure you want me to do this?” There was no choice though. She was ill, couldn’t make it, so my blurry, dark images would have to do. I continued to fret about it needlessly as my feet made their way to the sidewalk along Euclid with my contribution for “Toys for Tots” (a Transformer) in tow. Then I ran into Tao Jones.
“Hey… do you like Hip-Hop music?” the young street performer queried to the seemingly uninterested that passed him by. One of the blessings and curses of hanging in Little Five as everyone would probably agree are the panhandlers. Some being pretty talented individuals who provide notable al fresco entertainment, while others being…well…annoying and just plain sad. Tao Jones happened to be in the former of those categories and was especially intriguing in the sense that he was playing an acoustic guitar. I’ve always been a sucker for the neo-grass roots stuff.
“I LIKE Hip-Hop music” I confessed jovially.
He just stared at me for a moment, puzzled look on his face, possibly thinking “Sure you do….”. Shrugging off whatever pretenses entering his mind, he launched into an incredible song that he sang with raw conviction and lyrical mastery. Can you say instant fan? His drummer, a weathered gentleman of about 65, kept the beat seamlessly by tapping away on an empty water cooler bottle. Quite a pair. Five bucks for Tao’s c.d.- a bargain. Forcing me to start having a good time and stop worrying about what crappy pictures I might take-invaluable.
Beyond punctual, I arrived an hour and a half before show time and gathered in the small line that had begun to form at the door.
As it begin to careen around the building and down the block I noticed that there were certainly people of ALL ages tending to be more on the grown up side than not. Never bearing witness to one of Big Mike Geier’s King sized Productions live in the flesh, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect as far as the crowd. As the chatter grew louder drowning out the chill in the air, it became evident that Big Mike has a HUGE following of repeat attendee’s.
Nearing opening of the doors, the USMC/ROTC came to man their posts in front of the “Toys for Tots” donations boxes as a steady flood of generosity began filling them as fast as possible.
It seemed I wasn’t the only rube when it came to Big Mike as the family in line behind me began discussing what this whole thing would possibly be like.
“Is this your first time at one of these shows?” I asked sheepishly, trying not to seem like a creepy, prying weirdo. This is all still fresh to me, engaging strangers about their likes and reasons etc., and I certainly didn’t want to be that freak, the one that bugs the mess out of you when you’re just trying to enjoy yourself. Like the gutter salesman who canvasses the neighborhood and ruins your touch football game in the front yard. Yeah, like that.
Happily, they were super nice folks and Victoria didn’t seem shy or put off. In fact as it turns out, her daughter (Jeanette Simpson) was one of the backup vocals in the show.
“She’ll be the blonde. The brunette is her good friend Heather Witt. They both graduated from Georgia State. Are you a reporter?”
Ha! A reporter. More like a chick pushing 40 who has decided they finally want to get serious about writing.
“I guess you could say that. I’m covering the show for TheBackstageBeat.com.”
“Oh well, how exciting.” She replied and she was right. It was exciting. On any other Saturday night I would probably be laying on the couch in my p.j.’s, eating ice cream and watching “Family Guy” reruns. This was definitely a big step up!
Finally inside, I sought out the closest seat to the stage (damn you camera!) that I could find. The Variety’s
theater seating had been maximized with plastic patio chairs that filled the center stage and I sidled up to row three, right in the middle. At least they were more forgiving than most when it comes to accommodating a big behind so I found them to be quite comfortable. Seemed there was a host of regulars to my rear as they talked about how great “The Holiday Jubilee” was last year. I went into pseudo-reporter once more.
“Soooo, you’ve been to this before?” Dear God, I have to work on my question segway. Laurie was unbelievably sweet though as she gave me a crash course on all things “Big Mike”.
“Oh yeah, it’s amazing. I came last year and I always try to make it out to his Elvis shows. I was really surprised as Big Mike’s shows tend to be a bit risque’ and I had wondered how they would tame and tone it down for kids but they pulled it off in spades. He does a Valentine’s Day show too but I skipped it. The Dames Aflame were topless in that one so, it’s a bit much for me. He’s incredible though, you will LOVE this.”
Still twenty minutes to go and I amused myself by watching the Dames Aflame’s feet (just below the curtain) practicing their opening number. Going by their elegant gold, open toed, t-strap heels, it definitely seemed as though this production would be full of the glitz and glamour that I had overheard so many people remarking about. The rest of the wait was spent wondering if some of the show goers would push the maximum weight limit of those plastic chairs as well as trying to piece together the story of the people sitting beside me.
They were an elderly white couple with an Asian man in his mid thirties crammed in between them and the conversation being had was skin crawlingly awkward. At long last, the younger man told them he was going to sit upstairs. Columbo here deduced that they were most likely “line” buddies that had accidentally morphed into “sitting” buddies. Or maybe the young Asian guy didn’t realize the older woman smelled like corn chips till he was subjected to the arranged closeness of the situation. Who knows? Either way, he chose to sit in the nose bleeds vs. being sandwiched between them for the duration and the older couple seemed a bit offended.
Then the curtain opened and all 6”8 of Mike Geier , his kingsized orchestra and the Dames Aflame took to the stage in an eye popping flourish that captivated myself as well as everyone else in the audience. Snow (foam) begin to fall from the sky whimsically while Big Mike belted out one of the best renditions of “Happy Holidays to You” I’ve ever heard. The dancers were classy sophistication as they hit every step and mark around their leader in perfect cadence and it seemed to be as good as any show that’s touted on Broadway in its scale and professionalism.
The children in the front row were delighted as the faux snow fell all around them while they tried to snag the bits of fabricated Christmas in their stubby, little hands. It was enchanting.
Next up was another watertight cover of “Sleigh Ride” followed by an exceptional version of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” I could see why the “Elvis” shows are a must which incidentally, he does two of a year. The first one being this coming January 7th and 8th at the Variety. Laurie had told me prior to the show that Big Mike was a “crooner” but a few songs in, I thought he was much more. It’s like Tom Jones, Elvis Presley and Freddie Mercury had a baby who had to go live at the top of a beanstalk. He’s not just grand in size, he’s gargantuan in flair.
As he told the audience in between songs “Christmas is like going back in time” and that’s exactly how his show makes you feel. The best parts of your childhood come rushing back when he sings “White Christmas.” During which he brought the young men and women from the R.O.T.C. up on the stage to serenade them as more snow dropped from the rafters.
Then it was time for a bit of culture as Heather Witt did a wardrobe change and knocked us all out in stunning fashion with her “Ave Maria”.
Bad notes…I can’t recall which song this was from. Corn chip lady beside me kept jostling around.
After the enormously respectful performance of “Silent Night”, Mike joked about the fact that “It was just a song he wrote” which was met with gobs of laughter and cheers. I didn’t even take a picture while he was singing it as I felt like it would cheapen the whole thing in some way.
More High energy and sexy dancing from the Dames Aflame on “Jingle Bells”.
Big Mike asked for all the children to come down so that he could sing “Charlie Browns-Christmas Time is Here” to them but Giant Santa and his elf weren’t havin’ it. That is, not until he changed into proper attire anyways. They were right though. You can’t expect to be taken seriously by a child unless you’re wearing a sweater.
Back into his Showbiz regalia, Mike expounded on his newest family member-a rescued pitbull named “Georgie” before introducing Blair Crimmins . He claimed that he had met the young ukulele player out by the dumpster that morning shooting dice and drinking from a paper bag so he invited him for a spot on “Mele Kalikimaka”.
Mike’s pretty sharp on the washboard as well.
What WILL Santa Claus say when he finds everybody swingin’? Probably…. Hell yeah!
Gunnery Sgt. Dave Erwin came up and thanked everyone for their toy donations but gave the sad news that they were WAY down from last year.
He held up a hundred dollar bill to show the audience and explained that it had been left in the box outside. An eruption of applause was interrupted with the fact that it was the ONLY one. Last year they collected 3,500 bucks and this year so far it was only 300. Stinkin’ economy. His admission led a random dude from the audience to run up and place more bills on the stage to which the Sgt. replied…. “That’s great, if I dance, will you make it rain?”
Giant Santa visited with kiddies during intermission.
Looking around, I don’t think I’ve seen that many HAPPY people in one place in quite some time. And I’m not sure, but is that Tom Arnold in the glasses?
Back with a vengeance…. “Run, Run, Rudolph”
And just a totally fun time on “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch”.
During the medley of “Feliz Navidad”, “It’s a Small World” and “The Dreidel Song” Big Mike had us all put our arms around each other (like Whoville), pitching back and forth while singing “I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas”.
I loved the idea of it, but my arm smelt like a Frito Lay factory when I got it back from around my neighbor’s shoulder.
Brandon Bush from the band “Sugarland” was introduced on accordion before Mike and Jeanette Simpson launched into a scorching version of “A Fairytale in New York”. I made sure to tell her mom Victoria after the show how amazing she was.
It’s like you can’t figure how they will top each song and then they go and do “Father Christmas” by the Kinks and the whole place goes bananas.
Especially the drunk mom in front of me who flipped out so hardcore, her young son grabbed her hands and begged her to calm down. Don’t see that every day. Pretty sure Daddy was drivin’ home.
The whole bit with the ballerina was simply adorable.
The most rockin’, hot version of the “Little Drummer Boy” EVER. The end was like a Led Zeppelin song. Had it been like that when I was a kid in church, I probably wouldn’t have fallen asleep behind the manger scene.
“Oh Holy Night” was fabulous and “So this is Christmas” gave me the warm and tingly’s all the way down to my tootsies. They went with “Feed the World” as the closer with all the performers returning, communing on the stage in solidarity and Holiday spirit before bringing baskets of scrumptious looking cookies down to share with the us.
The snow began to fall yet again covering the treats, but people just brushed it off and ate them anyways. I think at that point, folks were so elated and stuffed with good cheer, they could have given out anchovy sandwiches and they would have been eaten with a smile. What a spectacular time and I can’t say enough flattering things about Big Mike and Co. They do what is so hard to accomplish during these times that were living in. They make you feel like a kid again.