Craig Winberry as George Michael in "The Life and Music of George Michael"

Playing George Michael in Tribute Show, Out Performer Craig Winberry Invites Fans to the Party

Steve Duffy READ TIME: 9 MIN.

NYC-based performer Craig Winberry has taken to the road this winter to play one of childhood idols – the late George Michael. In the touring tribute show, "The Life and Music of George Michael," Winberry plays the older Michael after the WHAM singer went solo.

Michael hit the music scene in 1983 when Wham! – the two-person band he started with Andrew Ridgeley – took off. (Michael did the vocals, Ridgely the instrumentation). Their catchy pop style, best exemplified with the hit "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," turned them into an overnight sensation. The band's fame peaked with their 1985 China tour, when they were the first Western pop band to tour the country. After the group broke up in 1986, Michael aimed at the more sophisticated adult market as a solo performer – a move that turned him into an international superstar.

British singer-songwriter George Michael arriving at Heathrow Airport, London, 23rd August 1984. (Photo by Gerrard/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Michael's career had its highs, including two mammoth hit albums 1987's "Faith" (which he described as a "work of genius" and "close to perfection") and 1990's "Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1"; and lows, including an infamous 1998 arrest in LA for engaging in a lewd act in pubic. Michael, who had long described himself as bisexual, officially came out in 1998, but never quite overcame the shame he felt from his conservative Greek upbringing. He told a journalist in 2005: "Deep down, part of me thinks the wrath of God is the reality." He would die on Christmas Day in 2016 at the age of 53, leaving behind a body of work that confirmed his status as a pop legend.

It is those songs that Winberry celebrates in the show, which continues its North American tour until March 10 when it concludes at Boston's Emerson Colonial Theatre. (For a full list of dates, follow this link.) A veteran of such off-Broadway shows as the musicals the "The Gunfighter Meet His Match" and "Shooting Star." His other live theater accomplishments include writing and starring in "Executive Order," which earned All Out Arts Recognition for Outstanding Monologue for the Fresh Fruit Festival. He debuted his own original holiday show, "Christmas Spirits: Neat Edition" at Broadway's Feinstein's/54 Below supper club. He is also Craig, one half of Basesuite, a music duo with hits reverberating on top streaming platforms.

EDGE spoke to Winberry earlier this month when the tour was starting to talk about his connection with George Michael, why his music remains so popular, and how he relates to the late singer as a gay man.

Craig Winberry

EDGE: Please introduce yourself.

Craig Winberry: Hi, my name is Craig Berry. I'm a singer, actor, and writer based in New York City. I am currently playing George Michael in "The Life and Music of George Michael."

EDGE: When was your introduction to George Michael's music?

Craig Winberry: Childhood – I'm a kid of the 80s. I can remember the first introduction I had which was Wham and their massive hit song "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." When it came out, anywhere that you went, everyone was playing it. It's one of those iconic hits, so thank you, George.

EDGE: Can you describe the concert-style show?

Craig Winberry: When they approached me about this project, being a theater actor, I assumed that it was a musical, but it was a concert. We tell the story of George's life literally through the lyrics of his music. It starts with Wham! and then in the second act, we transition the show into his solo career.

EDGE: The show is told by two Georges. Which George do you portray?

Craig Winberry: I play the older George.

EDGE: How did you approach the challenge of replicating the vocals and mannerisms?

Craig Winberry: I began singing in church and George was so soulful and authentic. I believe those two go hand-in-hand. Growing up with George, and then later in life when I started putting together a material for myself, there was always a song or two of George's in the mix. After I initially took on this project, I thought about how George was with me all along. His influence has always been with me as I moved through my career. I do put a little bit of me in there too, but the George references are there.

by Steve Duffy

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