On Sunday, Pandora Productions will invite its audience and closest friends to celebrate the holidays and help raise funds to upgrade its theater.
The annual tradition began just five years ago as a Christmas cabaret that offers Pandora’s twist on holiday favorites, pop songs and Broadway standards. This year, the cabaret is titled “Elfin’ Around.”
Artistic Director Michael Drury and cabaret stalwart Eric Sharp spoke with Insider about the event, its theme of “family,” and how that theme not only informs a collection of songs at the holidays but is a guiding principle for the work Pandora does year-round.
While Pandora has been around for more than two decades, the cabaret is relatively new. Drury said the company used to throw a much more lavish fundraiser, but it didn’t serve the company’s needs.
But the holiday cabaret didn’t come from a purposeful re-imagining of the fundraiser; like so many great things that happen in the theater, it started with a problem that needed solving — a hiccup with the venue that left them without a place to perform their December show.
That first cabaret took place in The Henry Clay’s Ballroom one flight of stairs up from Pandora’s usual performing space, The Henry Clay Theatre, which they share with Bunbury Theatre and Acting Against Cancer.
“We started doing it because we lost our Christmas date at The Henry Clay,” explained Drury. “Bunbury Theatre and I were negotiating our dates — they really wanted the Christmas date. And that’s when we stopped doing Christmas shows, and we’ve done this cabaret ever since.”
For its initial outing, the cabaret was a larger affair, running multiple nights. Afterward, Drury decided to keep the cabaret — but move it back to the theater and turn it into a fundraiser. He also wanted to shift the focus of the show, and instead of a fully produced work, he reached out to a group of performers he knew and loved.
“The thing about the cabaret, the people who are in the cabaret, they’re family people to me,” he said. “They’re people I know that … their spirit is right.”
Sharp has been a part of all the cabarets so far and says it’s a big part of the season for him.
“When I start creating my holiday schedule, for the last several years the cabaret has been the Sunday before Christmas. Now, when my boyfriend and I are figuring out stuff, I’m like, ‘This is my family, this is your family, and this Pandora’ — and this is my Christmas schedule,” said Sharp.
This year’s theme gave Drury a chance to turn the reins over to his performers and let them drive the sleigh just a little more than they normally do.
“I thought, I’m just gonna pull all the people together I want to do it and say, ‘Send me ideas,’ ” said Drury.
This approach worked because of how close the performers and director are.
“The reason it worked out that way is because these people are kindred spirits,” Drury added.
That the group of performers in many ways feels like a family reflects why a lot of the audience supports Pandora, as donors and as ticket buyers.
“They’re coming because they love us, not just because they want to hear Christmas tunes,” he said. “They’re coming because they have a sense of family with us.”
This year’s show will feature reworked songs. For example, The Weather Girl’s “It’s Raining Men” becomes “Santa Bring Me a Man,” and “Mr. Sandman” becomes “Mr. Santa.”
It’s a great switch for people who are tired of hearing the exact same holiday standards, although some Christmas favorites will be represented as well. Some others also get a bit of a facelift — parodies of carols are a standard for Pandora’s cabaret.
“’Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ becomes ‘Walking Round in Women’s Underwear,’ ” said Drury.
Bawdy or not, Sharp believes this year’s theme means a whole lot more to him than a loose framework for some light dialogue or a way to organize a song list.
“Things at home are very great, thank you, Mom and Dad, but I remember in the early years of being involved with Pandora, I was also in the early years of coming out, and I dreaded going home for the holidays,” said Sharp. “Pandora was the family I came back to, and they would love me and support me unconditionally, and it was nice to have someone who would sit with my fears and frustrations. Because that’s what families do.”
Now Sharp said that for him, the cabaret is about providing that same support for others in the LGBTQ community who may not be welcome at home.
“Things are better now at home, I know I was lucky to have that, but there are others who still need this, and it’s nice to be there for them,” he said.
You can spend some time with the Pandora Productions family starting at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17, at The Henry Clay, 604 S. Third St. Tickets are $50 in advance or $60 the day of the show.