Houston Symphony Brings Wham!-Factor With George Michael Concert

It's statistically impossible to go wrong with an evening of George Michael's music, and the Houston Symphony knows it.
It's statistically impossible to go wrong with an evening of George Michael's music, and the Houston Symphony knows it. Photo courtesy of the Houston Symphony.
The Houston Symphony’s Summer Series at Jones Hall includes a tribute program to pop superstar George Michael, whose music dominated the music charts in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The Music of George Michael, a Texas premiere, will pay homage to the artist’s most iconic tunes, including hits like “Faith” and “Careless Whisper” to “One More Try” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” The show starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at 615 Louisiana.

Conductor Brent Havens, whose company Windborne Productions, Inc. arranged the music, will return to lead the orchestra in an evening of electrifying music featuring the Houston Symphony.

Havens' experience stretches deep and across music styles when creating symphonic suites to showcase some of the most prolific artists. With the Houston Symphony, he has presented the music of other artists including Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Prince, Pink Floyd and Queen. Now, Michael gets the treatment.

“When he passed, a whole lot of people wished they could hear that music again live, and that’s not going to happen, but we can bring his music to Houston," Havens said. "I went through his catalogue, and he’s an artist who has an enormous catalogue. I whittled it down to the 18 songs we’re going to be doing. We’re going to get a little of everything. We’re also going to get a few tunes only the diehard fans will know."

To complement the show, Havens recruited Juan Pablo Di Pace, currently of Netflix’ Fuller House fame, to provide the vocals. He lists his award-winning role of Jesus Christ in Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s A.D. The Bible Continues (2016 Movieguide Award for Best Actor) and his portrayal of Petros in Mamma Mia! The Movie alongside Meryl Streep as some of his previous accomplishments.

Di Pace said, “I discovered George at 15 or so, and I remember when he was doing the Older Album. It blew my mind. The voice was really incredible. Then, he used the art form of music videos like no one had done before. [Freedom! '90] was so groundbreaking and I was hooked immediately. That’s when I became inspired by this man."

Other than his love for Michael, Di Pace says he accidentally fell into the role of voicing the legend.

"Last year, I was doing a show — my own show at 54 Below — and I decided to close the show with “Freedom! '90.” One of the people who was there was a booker for Brent Havens. He saw me perform, and he remembered that song,” Di Pace said. “When the time came for them to think about doing a George Michael show, they thought about me. I met Brent, I sang him three songs, and that was done. It was very serendipitous and a beautiful gift to the universe."
click to enlarge Actor, singer and dancer Juan Pablo Di Pace will provide the vocals for this evening of George Michael hits. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HOUSTON SYMPHONY.
Actor, singer and dancer Juan Pablo Di Pace will provide the vocals for this evening of George Michael hits.
Photo courtesy of the Houston Symphony.

That voice. That face. Those songs. It’s not surprising Di Pace became fascinated by the man. Michael was destined to become an icon from the very beginning.

As a teenager, he formed the band Wham! with high school friend Andrew Ridgeley. In 1984, the duo had their first worldwide hit with "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." They became the first Western pop group to perform in China, and they also took part in 1985’s Live Aid. After that, he went solo with “Faith” and sold sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. He has performed duets with Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Elton John.

In spite of his success, his life was embroiled by controversy, too. Some considered his music too sexually charged, like “I Want Your Sex.” Then, questions of his own sexuality caused a stir. He came out publicly as gay after being caught engaging in lewd conduct at a park in Los Angeles. He had multiple encounters with the law, sometimes involving drugs.

During his career, he won two Grammy Awards, three BRIT Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards and countless nominations and awards from other industry organizations.

n December 25, 2016, Michael passed away at the age of 53 from natural causes related to heart and liver disease. In the wake of his passing, he was remembered for his career as well as his philanthropy. He made generous contributions to London Lighthouse, an AIDS hospice; the Rainbow Trust Children's Charity; and he recorded a song for Red Hot and Dance, an AIDS charity album. He also made many anonymous charitable donations to multiple organizations.

Houston has a chance to celebrate all the different styles of Michael and reminisce about the magic of his music.

Di Pace said, "It’s definitely going to be a trip down memory lane. People are very aware of his music. They’ll be happy to know there’s music from Wham!, from the Faith album, there’s a duet, there’s a lot of his famous tracks, and there are a lot of his famous ballads."

The Music of George Michael starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 14 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit $29 to $99.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd