- Photo by Jon Waits
THE Lucas Theatre for the Arts On Stage Cabaret has become a summer tradition. Lucky for Savannahians and visiting music lovers, everyone’s favorite intimate concert flies home for winter.
This year, a cast of local musicians is ready to kick out the jams with their most high-energy holiday show yet: Rockin’ Around the Christmas Cabaret.
“This is our fourth one,” Erin Muller, Lucas Theatre Managing Director, counts off. “We only do them during the summer, then we bring it back for Christmas.”
On Stage Cabaret was born out of a desire to show off the Lucas’s historic beauty and offer audiences a different kind of musical experience in the dog days of summer. The theatre is a 1,200 capacity venue, but instead of sitting in plush rows of seats, attendees get comfortable right on the stage. Performers perform on the edge of the stage, with the Lucas itself acting as a gorgeous backdrop.
“I think it’s just a different way to see the theatre,” says Muller. “It’s a different use of the Lucas that you don’t get with other performances. We have 150 seats at the Cabaret—it swaps everything on its head!”
Some of the Lucas’s favorite performers, including Natasha Drena, Trae Gurley, and Cecilia Arango will take the stage to share holiday tunes with some vintage glitz.
“It’s 1940s-‘60s music,” Drena shares excitedly. “We’ve got Jody Espina on sax, Ian Spence on electric guitar, Richie Adams on drums, Marc Chesanow on bass, Kim Steiner on piano. It’s our first Christmas show with a full band.”
And the band is ready to rock. Fans can look forward to hearing festive tunes in the style of rock, R&B, and pop artists of the past, including The Drifters’ version of “White Christmas,” several Elvis tunes, “Jingle Bell Rock,” and, naturally, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
“We hope by adding bass, electric guitar, and a little more brass we can get that rock ‘n’ roll vibe and do a little less traditional Christmas that’s still fun,” offers Muller.
Gurley enthusiastically agrees.
“It’s great for everybody as a band,” he says. “It gave Natasha the ability to pick more upbeat songs that are hard to do if you don’t have a band. It’s going to sound a little different with that electric guitar and Jody Espina wailing back there!”
“Yes, there are some awesome sax solos!” Drena confirms.
Drena also advises that, if you’re not particularly into religious holiday music, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Cabaret offers something for everyone.
“We make sure we don’t do a lot of religious songs,” she explains. “If you feel uncomfortable going into a church, this is a good way to celebrate the season for everybody. We include songs from other denominations also.”
The cabaret crew plans to announce their 2017 summer season lineup at Thursday night’s performance.
“We’ll definitely have a nine-show season again,” says Drena. “We’re always so surprised at how quickly people start buying their tickets.”
“I think what really sets us apart is our interaction with the audience,” Gurley offers. “We’re not on stage, far away and reaching. It’s easy for them to walk right up in sit in our laps!”
(Savannah socialites The Mint Julep Queens may have done just that, and distributed tiaras to performers, at a prior cabaret).
“We’re going into our fifth summer, and we’re so thankful for the people who come out, buy tickets, and support us,” says Drena. “We never really thought we’d get this far, and we’re mapping out the next five years and hoping to be around for a really long time.”
“And,” Gurley adds in reference to the proposed cuts to art and social services funding in the City of Savannah 2017 budget, “with what’s been going on in the city with arts funding, this is the reason why it’s important to have things like this. So people can come out and support the arts. We are still alive, and the arts community needs money to function. These are the things that make you feel good when bad things are happening. Keep supporting them.”