The final Christmas curtain
Published 7:03 am Monday, December 1, 2014
Michael Veldman and Friends is closing the chapter in their lives they’ve shared with the community for about 13 years.
Veldman, Kaye Perry, Erin Schumacher and Brian Bawek will perform their last shows as Michael Veldman and Friends in their “An Enchanted Christmas” program on Dec. 5, 6, 12 and 13.
“There’s a lot of family changes, a lot of dynamics have changed,” Executive Directer Michael Veldman said.
Email newsletter signup
The group first performed in 1998 at the Saint Augustine Catholic Church as a fundraiser to help restore the Paramount Theatre. That show had around 40 people, and in 2001, Veldman and the other three started the annual Michael Veldman and Friends.
The group recalled their first show at the Paramount Theatre in 2001, which didn’t have heat yet due to the recent renovations. Veldman recalled it was about 58 degrees, and audience members kept their coats on. Bawek also remembered the experience as chilly.
“It was really hard dressing behind stage,” Bawek laughed.
Veldman brought the group down to only four performers due to the chaos when there were many more. After scheduling issues and trying to work around everybody’s busy lives, he thought it would be simpler with only a quartet.
“It seemed to click and the chemistry was correct, and we have maintained that and it just works,” he said. “We tried to keep it simple.”
Bawek, Schumacher and Veldman knew each other previously, and Veldman brought Perry in not only because her voice matched well, but also to bring her theater background in to help with the stage performance.
“Vocally we can blend,” Veldman said. “It was the right combination.”
The four performers emphasized the show is family friendly, but it is not only aimed at certain age groups or demographics.
As Schumacher called it,”Traditional with a whimsical twist.”
Perry recalled the audience dynamics during the first few years.
“The first year there was a lot of ladies here, the second year the ladies drug their husbands here, and then by year three it was the men going, ‘Hey, have we got our tickets yet for the show?’” she said with a laugh.
Veldman was excited about the culture and diversity in the audience last year, and Bawek said they try to cater the show to everyone.
“We took all of our family traditions, all the things we saw and grew up with and shared with our families, from Carol Burnett to White Christmas to all of the holiday specials: Perry Como, Dean Martin,” Bawek said. “You put it in front of these people, and the older generation embraced it, and it brought the younger generation back with them.”
The group joked that over the years, the show has turned into a “monster,” growing bigger and better each year. With a full set, costumes, new themes, and sound and lights, the show has attracted audience members from places like Minneapolis; Des Moines, Iowa; Madison, Wisconsin; and Branson, Missouri. The group was excited when they found out so many people came to see the show, but they were more excited about what the show brought to their audience members.
“Just to come and just have a good laugh and relax and forget about the crummy world,” Schumacher said. “Just have something positive and fun to come to, and to leave with the Christmas spirit.”
Perry added, “Yes we’re singing, we enjoy that, but it’s kind of become, what would they like, what can we do to make them happy, to make them remember their Christmases, to make them get their families together.”
Bawek was especially excited that the show has brought many families together over the holidays, created new family traditions and is a multi-generational concert. He said it’s a show that will bring back memories for adults, but showcase things from today’s culture.
Bawek was especially excited that the show has brought many families together over the holidays, created new family traditions and is a multi-generational concert. He said it’s a show that will bring back memories for adults, but showcase things from today’s culture as well.
“It’s brought entire families and generations of families together, and that’s what’s the most important thing that’s been accomplished,” Bawek said.
Although the four performers do make a profit, much of the money raised by the concerts has been donated to different organizations over the years, including the Red Cross, Matchbox Theatre, Relay for Life, and a $15,000 endowment scholarship fund at Riverland Community College in the name of a friend who passed away
They also bid out the lights and sound for the show.
This isn’t the first time the group has decided to retire.
In 2006, the group retired due to similar issues: Everyone’s lives were changing and they weren’t sure where they would be in a year or two. But they came back in 2008 after an outpouring of support from the community. In 2010, the group again decided to retire, but in 2013 came back to the stage. Veldman said this time is different; with all the changes in the members’ lives, they are simply unable to give the Paramount a year’s commitment.
“We’re not able to commit to another year based on this knowledge of whether or not people will be around,” Veldman said.
Because the Paramount needs to secure it’s schedule, it asks groups to sign contracts a year in advance, which the group was unable to do. Executive Directer Jennie Knoeble is disappointed that the group is leaving the stage.
“People love their shows, it’s a great asset to our community, it’s something that the community really enjoys,” she said.
Although there were other programs put into place when the group left previously, Knoeble said nothing was quite as well received as the Veldman and Friends show.
“For our community specifically, nothing can replace Veldman and Friends,” she said.
Veldman said there will not be another Veldman and Friends, because the group made an agreement a while back that they would never replace one another. As for spinoffs from different group members, he commented, “Anything is possible, there is so much talent to go around, and there is so much talent in Austin.”
Veldman thanked the more than 35,000 patrons who have attended the shows over the years, including this year’s final production. The group hoped that those who have wished to attend and have not take the opportunity to see the show before it is over.
The quartet hoped that the memories created will be looked back at with joy and happiness, as they will do the same.
Although many people think tickets get sold out early due to the amount of people who wait in line to purchase tickets, the group emphasized that when people call to ask about tickets, ask not only for the main floor but also for balcony seats, which are available during each performance. Many times there are still tickets left even as the show dates get close. Since the Paramount used to be a movie theater, all the seats are full view. Tickets are $15. For more information, call the Paramount at 507-434-0934 or visit michaelveldmanandfriends. com.