Menzie, Michael performing with Symphony of the Lakes

For Beckie Menzie, performing with her cabaret partner Tom Michael in Symphony of the Lakes’ upcoming concert feels like coming home.

The show, “A Christmas Cabaret,” is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 15 in the Winona Heritage Room, Winona Lake. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 seniors, and $5 for children and students through college.

Menzie grew up in Pierceton, was a Whitko Wildcat and still has family in the Warsaw and Auburn areas. Her last performance in the Warsaw area was at the Wagon Wheel Theatre – now the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts – in 2009 in “Nunsense” after her friend and Wagon Wheel Artistic Director Roy Hine and her husband both died.

It was a stressful time for her, but her career has kept her going and she said she’s very proud of what Wagon Wheel Artistic Director Scott Michael and the Center have accomplished over the years since then.

“My career has been going great,” Menzie said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. She said she’s known as one of the busiest cabaret performers in Chicago. She’s also happily engaged to be married again.

“I teach, I sing, I play for other singers, I create other shows. I’m constantly doing other things,” she said. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, serves as a musical director for Michael Feinstein’s Songbook Academy in Carmel, Ind., and is one-third of the Girls Like Us group while regularly performing with Michael.

As the musical director for the academy,   she said she works with some of the best singers. Hundreds of people audition to spend a week there, not only learning things like the proper way to handle a microphone, but also the songs from the Great American Songbook, which includes popular music before the 1960s.

“They get amazing opportunities and it’s an opportunity to keep the Great American Songbook alive,” Menzie said.

Michael grew up in Texas. “We are different in that way,” Menzie stated.  In a separate telephone interview Monday, Michael said, “We have had so many great experiences over the years.”

Originally from Houston, Michael said he’s lived in Chicago since 1985. He started singing in 1984 with Up With People and toured the world with the group for a year before settling in Illinois. He worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines for 20 years.
After moving to Chicago, he started visiting clubs and cabarets to sing. “I fell in love with the whole art of cabaret because of the intimacy,” Michael said.

Previously, Menzie and Michael did an orchestra version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” for a Seasons of Concern fundraiser. The Chicago Chamber Orchestra afterward approached them and asked if they had a whole show with strings. They didn’t, but told the orchestra they could. The show ended up being a big sell-out in Chicago, Menzie said, and the orchestra asked them back. Other orchestras asked the duo to perform with them.

The Symphony of the Lakes asked them to come perform with them this Christmas.
“Our holiday show is designed with strings,” Menzie said. While most of the Dec. 15 numbers with the SOTL will be Christmas favorites, there also will be a Hanukkah song in the mix. The “Do You Hear What I Hear?” arrangement by Michael and Menzie will be featured, too.
Michael said audiences will “hear songs they know and love. There will be a couple of songs they think they know and we will turn it upside down, specifically ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’” There will be hymns, a spin of “Hanukkah” and “Santa Monica,” and they will perform “The Gift.”  “I love our holiday shows. I really love them,” Michael said.

Menzie said she and Michael have been nationally recognized as a duo for 18 years, but have sung together for 25 years. “He’s certainly one of my best friends,” she said. Together, they’ve sung as far away as Vietnam, in big venues like Carnegie Hall and even in more intimate settings like nursing homes.

Michael said he met Menzie in 1987. He eventually asked her to be part of his first solo show. When they started singing duets together, Michael said he could tell there was a different reaction from their audience. He said there’s a natural chemistry between them because it’s natural for them and they’re such good friends.

Asked to estimate how many shows they’ve done together, Michael said, “I couldn’t even count. We’ve done everything from Carnegie Hall to nursing homes.”

As for song choice, Michael said, “We tend to enjoy maybe older songs more, but lately, in the last few years, the audience has requested more modern songs. … But the Great American songs will always be requested.”

He defined modern songs as those released in the 1960s and 1970s, and a little into the 1980s. Michael said they can take those more modern songs and give them an old school feel by slowing them down. “In cabaret, lyrics always come first,” he said.

“We are working on a ‘musical duo’ show,” Menzie stated. “Mostly the highs and lows of musical duos.” The show, tentatively titled “The Highs and Lows of Musical Duos,” features the music of Simon & Garfunkel, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, The Carpenters and more. It is scheduled to open in April at Davenport’s Cabaret in Chicago.

“This will be our 19th new show this next year. We open a new show every April. It’s a great way to make winter go fast in Chicago,” Michael said. “The hardest part is coming up with an idea. Once we have an idea, it’s easier to work on it.”

Menzie said after the new show debuts, they will go on tour with it. Only a few dates for the show beside the debut have been scheduled so far, but they will start selling the show after it premieres.

The duo haven’t recorded any CDs recently, Menzie said, though they have individually and as a duo in the past. “People aren’t buying CDs anymore, so we decided to use our money for other things like trips to Hawaii,” she said.

If they were to ever record again, Menzie said it would be a Christmas album. “We might do it with strings. We both love Christmas,” she said. And coming back to her hometown for a holiday show is extra special for Menzie.

“It’s nice for me. I hope it’s nice for my friends for me to come back. I can see my family and friends. It feels like coming home to me,” she said, noting that she doesn’t get to see her dad or her niece Kristi Webster as often as she’d like. “It’s a gift to come.”