Last year, actor, singer, songwriter and director Juan Pablo Di Pace concluded a one-man show in New York with George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90,” and it just so happened that a booking agent for Windborne Music was in the house.
The Virginia-based production company, which presents a series of touring concerts combining classic rock music with live orchestras, had planned to arrange a tribute to the late superstar after a successful trial with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra last May. But, after seeing Di Pace perform Michael’s music, founder and conductor Brent Havens announced a full national tour, in which Di Pace will star.
“It was like serendipity,” Di Pace said of being asked to join the production. “It was meant to be.”
“The Music of George Michael” will make its debut with the Houston Symphony on Saturday at Jones Hall, showcasing a collection of the British icon’s hits from “Faith” and “Careless Whisper” to “One More Try” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”
Like most of America — and the world — Di Pace discovered Michael, who died in 2016, in the era of MTV music videos and award shows. He was in high school, which he completed at the United World College of the Adriatic in Italy, when he bought one album and kept going back for more.
Di Pace, who was born in Argentina, has been based in Los Angeles for the past five years and currently portrays Fernando on the Netflix hit series “Fuller House.” Before moving to the United States, he worked in London, where his music idol was born and had established a devoted fan base.
“Obviously, George (Michael) was very famous in the ’80s here in the states, but in Britain, he never left,” Di Pace said. “He’s part of the fabric of British music. He’s like Elton John or the Rolling Stones.”
Throughout his life, Di Pace saw Michael live in concert four times, each during a different tour. Even as the pop star aged, Di Pace said, he never lost the pure quality of his voice and its incredible range.
Michael, who began his career in the pop group Wham!, was very involved in the creative process of a career full of hits. Not only did he have the voice of an angel, but he also wrote, produced and arranged the vast majority of his work. And though he might be best known for his upbeat dance tracks, Michael performed soulful ballads that demonstrated his maturity as a versatile artist — his lyrics heartbreaking yet breathtakingly beautiful.
Uniting such powerfully moving songs with the full sound of an orchestra, such as the Houston Symphony, is the epitome of inspiration, said Di Pace, who has long aspired to participate in such a collaborative project.
“Sometimes in life, you just click with a voice,” Di Pace said. “Especially as a singer, your idols tend to be almost like your teachers. George, for me, was one of those people.”
Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a writer in Houston.