The music of George Michael comes alive for one night only at FIM Whiting Auditorium

FLINT, Michigan — With a stunning profile that looks shockingly similar to George Michael’s — and a Brazilian husband to boot — it’s no wonder New York-based actor and singer Craig Winberry found himself bringing the essence of the late pop icon to the stage in a new concert-style show. 'The Life and Music of George Michael' is a one-night-only experience taking place at the Flint Institute of Music (FIM) Whiting Auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 29 at 8:00 p.m. 

For Winberry, performing in the show feels like a dream job.

“I was working in a hair salon in New York City. I was shampooing somebody’s head, singing, having fun, and this lady pops up, and she’s like, ‘You’re a singer and an actor. I knew it,’ explains Craig Winberry on the origins of his illustrious career. “Sometimes you walk away from your gifts because the world tells you to, and then your road brings you right back to that gift.” 

Those gifts of singing and acting have taken Winberry far from the salon he used to work at and into the hearts of audiences across America. Co-starring in the production alongside British actor Roy Phelan, the concert spans George Michael’s career from his start in the globally successful duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley, to his expansive solo offerings. 

One after another, the hits will roar from the live band, giving audiences a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a walk down memory lane. Put on by the FIM, Flint will have George Michael’s life experienced, not through various scenes and tabloid stories, but through the music and lyrical content that’s connected people for generations.

According to Winberry, one of the goals is to understand George and “have a good time,” but there’s more underneath the surface.

“When you understand George’s work, a lot of the American audience see [him] always as Wham! Then you have people that follow the whole career,” says Winberry. “If we don’t deliver that, a different human expression, we’re not doing our job. This legacy comes with big shoes to fill. George was a magnificent storyteller. We’re going to bring you a show in Flint, and we’re going to make you have a good time.” 

Flintside caught up with Winberry in between shows to talk about all things George Michael and what’s next.

With a live band, 'The Life and Music of George Michael' brings decades of classics to life for a new generation. (Courtesy photo)
Flintside: How does this new generation of people resonate with his music when they come to the show?

Craig Winberry: “Most people coming to show are fans that never got to see him, or they did go, and they’re bringing their daughters, sons, cousins, coworkers who might not have been a big fan back in the day. People are getting the girls together, and they’re coming to show and having a good time because they want to connect with something that makes them happy. It’s a nice walk down memory lane.”

Flintside: This isn’t a play. It focuses on the music, but I don’t think people understand the lyrical content in his music. Can you talk briefly about sharing his life and those intimate moments through his music and lyrics?

C. Winberry: “We do stuff from the older albums. One of those songs is ‘Jesus to a Child.’ If you’re familiar with the background of when he wrote that, you can’t get any more vulnerable than that. What he was telling you is that he met the love of his life [who] passed away, and that time is precious. That resonates with me. We all have missed opportunities or things that didn’t work out. [It’s] focusing on the lessons that you get rather than the heartache, pain, or trauma. It’s accepting it and saying this is a part of life.” 

Flintside: You mentioned going through George’s archives. What were some of the nuances and hidden details you learned about him?

C. Winberry: “Oh, the energy. I love a challenge. It scared me, so I wanted to run towards it. Before a show, I’ll play one or two tracks that are not in the show. I remember experiencing some of those late eighties, early nineties songs when I was younger and pulling back the layers. As a middle-aged gay man, they hit so differently now. It’s nice to see George’s material have a renaissance to where he was standing in his truth when we couldn’t talk about being gay. As a singer coming up, it would’ve killed your career.”

“I’ve been with this show for two and a half years, and every night when I go out there, I’m truly thankful because it’s an opportunity to release any fear, self-sabotage, and piece of doubt that was put in my head," says Craig Winberry. (Courtesy photo)
Flintside: Initially, it was unfortunate how the world found out about his sexuality when he got arrested. But as artists do, he turned it into something iconic. I’m curious about the lessons that you take from him living your life and performing as an openly gay man.

C. Winberry: “Authenticity. I’ve been with this show for two and a half years, and every night when I go out there, I’m truly thankful because it’s an opportunity to release any fear, self-sabotage, and piece of doubt that was put in my head about anything about me as a human being. At the basic level, we deserve to be seen and to exist. George is like, ‘Oh, you think this is scandalous?’ No, honey, this is queer life. So, let’s not judge because all y’all straighties in the world are doing the same thing.”

Flintside: On a personal note, I read you are married, so congratulations on that. As a performer, singer, actor, and human being, how has this shifted your perspective on where you want to go in life, what you want to do, and things you’d like to experience?

C. Winberry: “Since starting this, I think this is another layer of what’s been going on in my personal life. I came to this later in life [when] I started professionally doing it for a paycheck and earning a liveable wage in my late thirties. My husband was super supportive. COVID hit, and then we had the SAG strike, [which] put a lot of things on hold. Having the opportunity to do [this] was an encouragement to remind myself that I’m that girl, that I can, I will, and I did. I felt like I had lost it. It’s realizing that things are going to be okay and what’s yours will never pass you by and enjoy.”

Roy Phelan and Craig Winberry recreate some of George Michael's iconic poses. (Courtesy photo)
Flintside: What do you want audiences to get from this show?

C. Winberry: “I want everybody to have a good time. When people come to the show, I want them to have a great experience with the theater. I want people to come to the show because of George, and then I want them to leave remembering how fun live entertainment is, human connecting, [and] experiencing the same thing, at the same time, because it will never be again. It was that night in Flint, and it will never happen again.” 

Flintside: For my last question, and you can answer this in a George Michael British accent, what is next for you on the horizon?

C. Winberry: “Right now, I’m one half of a queer independent dance [group]. I was like, nobody’s making queer dance music that I like. There’s not a George or a Michael right now. We started a group called BaseSuite, and we’re having fun doing that. The goal is to write music for other artists and put it out for ourselves. It’s for the 'them-theys' and everybody. It’s centered from a male queer outlook, and I probably have some big announcements for this summer.”

Visit FIM for more information about 'The Life and Music of George Michael.' Tickets are on sale now. You can find Craig Winberry and BaseSuite on Facebook and Instagram.
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Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.