Veldman and Friends prepare for finale

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, November 20, 2010

Michael Veldman and Friends will bring their unique musical experience once again to the Paramount beginning, Dec. 10. - Photo submitted


For The Herald

The question is not, “How will 3,200 people start the Christmas holiday season this year?”

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The question is, “What will those people do next year, when Michael Veldman and Friends will no longer perform their popular holiday show at the Paramount Theatre in Austin?”

That’s right. After six shows next month, Michael Veldman, Kaye Perry, Erin Schumacher and Brian Bawek will no longer perform the holiday show that quickly became a phenomenon after it debuted in 2001.

“We just want to thank the community,” Veldman said. “There is no show without an audience and this is not just an audience. These people are family. We have old family who have been to the show and new ones who are there for the first time.”

“When I do that schmiel, it’s truly from the heart,” he said. “Hopefully, that resonates with people.”

“I assure you, this is the last, but also, I want to say ‘Thank you’ for all the years we’ve enjoyed performing the show,” he said.

Veldman, Perry, Schumacher and Bawek first performed at a St. Augustine Catholic Church fund-raiser in 1998.

“I brought together people I had worked with over the years,” Veldman said. “In Synque, The Briars from Riverland Community College, the Austinaires from Austin High School, Spiritually Motivated from St. A’s and others,”

So successful was the In Concert with Michael Veldman event at St. A’s that Joanne Stevens, then a board member of the Paramount Theatre, encouraged them to perform on the historic theater’s stage. “In those days, the Paramount was not like it is today,” Stevens said. “We were just in the process of beginning to restore it and this was a fund-raiser to do that just like the event at St. A’s.”

]Through the years, two shows became three and then six, as audiences demanded more each December.

The 623-seat Paramount Theatre venue was perfect for the holiday shows. The former vaudeville stage and movie theater is reverted by Austinites, who admire its architectural splendor while enjoying performances on stage.

The MVF Productions Company also reached new zeniths in set design each December, providing both a feast for the eyes as well as for the ears.

“The shows became more elaborate each year and more expensive,” said Veldman. “We felt we had to outdo ourselves to please the audiences.”

An evolution of sorts was also taking place on stage, where Perry had more stage credits. “Kaye has been an actress and performer on stage and that has rubbed off on us,” Veldman said. “I think we have all grown to do things we never saw ourselves doing.”

At least $100,000 in revenue has been generated for the Paramount Theatre by MVF Productions in 9 years. The actual figure may be as much as $120,000, sources say.

“It’s been a phenomenon,” said Scott Anderson, the Paramount’s manager. “Agents are always calling me and asking if the Paramount is interested in a Christmas show,” said Anderson. “When I tell them we have a holiday show that averages over 3,200 tickets sold each year in a city of only 20,000 people and that it has become a tradition for audiences to attend year after year, they all marvel at that and so do I.”

Each new show always began when an idea surfaced in Veldman’s mind, while performing in December, according to Perry.

By the following spring, a plan was taking shape, songs selected and a set designed. Everyone had input, including Stevens and Scott Perry, Kaye’s husband.

Rehearsals began in late summer in the performers’ homes before moving to the Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin.

The curtain went up in early December, every show was a near sell-out and when it was over, the group started planning the next season’s show.

The impact on their personal lives, families and careers is incalculable. Divine intervention may have helped them.

What audiences may not know are the performers pray behind the curtain before each performance. In front, they dazzle audiences with their stage presence and vocal talents.

Two beautiful women, two handsome men. One extraordinary production, rivaling those in dinner theaters in the Twin Cities or Branson, Missouri.

Costume changes, perfect lighting and sound. Four people connecting with their audience.

Standing ovations all the time.

Always, the performers insisted in holding Christ in their musical Christmas celebration. Audiences might delight hearing the ubiquitous “Santa Claus is coming to Town,” but there was also “Oh Holy Night” and others to issue a reminder of the reason for the season.

What will Anderson miss the most about seeing the performers rehearse for their annual December production? “The camaraderie they enjoy is so endearing,” he said.

This year’s program will be a keepsake: Proof of attending the last MVF show ever.

The performers are grateful for their loyal sponsors all solicited each year by Bawek.

Not only is the Paramount Theatre grateful for the annual production, but also are names on a lengthy list of beneficiaries of the MVF generosity. The group has endowed a scholarship at Riverland Community College in memory of their friend, Maureen Cahill, a cancer victim, and contributed to Mower County Red Cross, Relay For Life and the Circle of Friends Day Camp for Autistic Children at Hormel Historic Home.

As the final curtain draws nearer – They emphatically say they will only perform together again as Michael Veldman and Friends at a 2011 fund-raiser for the Ronald McDonald House at Rochester – there are meetings and rehearsals; the latter set to move to the Paramount Theatre was soon as other late-November productions end.

Then, six shows and final bows to an audience the performers call their extended family.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Veldman, creator and nexus of the group, said of the morning after the last show. “There will have to be an adjustment, because in 2007, it was an hiatus. It was a break after a family-type decision we made together with Joanne’s help.”

“Thanksgiving was different that year knowing I didn’t have to go to the Paramount the next day to start setting up,,” Veldman said. “Christmas was different that year, because I didn’t have the 2 weeks of shows to do. I never put up a Christmas tree in my house for 4 or 5 years because thee was so much Christmas in my life with the show.”

Perry took the one year off differently. “The year we didn’t do the show I was not in the Christmas spirit.” She said. “I decorated but I did not enjoy it.”

Gulp …… Sigh ……. Say it ain’t so, Michael Veldman and Friends. What are those 3,200 Paramount Theatre ticket-holders going to do without you?

Did the Grinch have anything to do with your decision?

It won’t be the same.

Tickets on sale

The Michael Veldman and Friends’ production “Special Delivery” will be performed Friday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 11, at 2 and 7:30 p.m., as well as the following weekend on Friday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 18, at 2 and 7:3p.m.

All seats are $12. Tickets are on sale now at the Paramount Theatre box office only.

For more information, call 507 434-093