Michelle Johnson: Busy but Lots of Prep for Smith Center Shows

The performer Michelle Johnson sometimes has lots of hair other times not so much.

When Michelle Johnson advertises a show for Myron’s at The Smith Center, she’s not saying, “Hey, look at me; I’m singing songs.”

Michelle is very carefully advertising a theme for a “concert” featuring herself and special guests. She schedules these concerts three or four times a year (three times this year) because she feels privileged to be performing at Smith Center and wants to do the job right. As a result, she regularly sells out her shows.

What’s the secret? Michelle talked about show preparations and her busy life in an interview a week ago.

Months before an actual show date at Myron’s, Michelle will have come up with a show concept. Sometimes she then works with a collaborator on ideas for music or a show outline. Also months before the show she will have invited special guests and asked for their music selections based on the show concept. She also will have booked the musicians, researched photos online if photos are needed, asked for resumes from entertainer guests and her staff, prepared the text and proofread plans for a printed program to be given to each audience member, and like her teacher mother, will have done enough research to teach the audience about the singers or songs related to the show’s theme. Audience members and Michelle’s fans are never bored; they see something new with each concert.

Michelle Johnson says she could not do her shows without the behind the scenes helpers, the musicians and her co-stars. This was one of the inside pages of her most recent program for “Lady Be Good” celebrating the women in jazz.
Photo by Diane Taylor

As busy as Michelle is with her life (she and her husband, Bob Traver, own Traver Concert Services; a division of her Diva Las Vegas Productions), she always takes time out for singing. “I attended Yale University and majored in English, but also took some acting classes to add to my lifetime love of musical theater. After I graduated, I worked as a paralegal as a day job while I pursued singing/acting.” In addition to singing jobs and session work with other artists, Michelle appeared in a Broadway show, “Some Americans Abroad” which had a short run at Lincoln Center. In 1995 she and a then current boyfriend moved to Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas music scene was a surprise for Michelle. The musicians she knew in New York typically had day jobs because they couldn’t live on what they earned at night. In Las Vegas she met musicians who had houses and cars and no day jobs. In fact, shortly after she decided to stay permanently in Las Vegas, she was cast in a six-day-a-week show “Country Fever” at the Golden Nugget. “And I got my first health insurance,” she says with smile.

Michelle Johnson in a favorite turban and talking.
Photo by Diane Taylor

At “Country Fever” she also met her future husband. He was a stagehand then, but through the years held other jobs and ultimately became head of a business to supply instruments and equipment needed on stage and behind the scenes for concerts and touring stage shows. Michelle works in the business as well. On the morning of our interview, Bob was looking for a cymbal that had been shipped to the house. Michelle was planning on spending the afternoon at their company’s warehouse.

The couple recently moved to a new house and welcomed Bob’s father as a member of the household. Michelle hopes her mother will join them too.

These days Michelle says she hopes to slow down and do things easier and smarter. She will continue to sing, but she hopes to be a mentor to other singers as well. She freely talks about advice she has gotten over the years. From Clint Homes she learned that “less is more” when it comes to talking on stage. She also learned to stay calm in the hour before a performance in a zone that he called “Disneyland” where she takes no more calls, ticket requests, or even good wishes. “He was so right. We need to use all our energy for the show,” she says, “so the time before the show is quiet time.” From David Robinson at the Vegas Room, she was reminded that performances needed to be so well planned that there is no need to frequently look at set lists or lyrics, which is an audience distraction. With regard to on-stage conversation, Michelle says she tries to be as conversational as she would be in a living room.

When talking or singing, Michelle is, as her voice teacher Kimberly Kanitz says, a “voice athlete” and she prepares. She has a whole process before a show, getting more sleep, drinking less coffee, avoiding people who can bring stress into her life and voice.

With regard to wardrobe in her shows, Michelle likes long flowing gowns, many of which she buys from Wassa Coulibaly at Wassa Wear Boutique in Town Square. “Yes, I have a big closet,” she says smiling. And yes, Michelle likes to dress up even when she goes out to see another entertainer. “I might run into a Director of Entertainment from some nightclub or theater and I want to look good,” she says.

In Michelle’s event production business, she may hire individual entertainers (some big names), but she often is asked to put together large groups of entertainers to kick off one of the town’s conventions or to back up a visiting headliner. Michelle has an app that allows her to contact a large number of people at once. She states what is needed and when and then gathers the responses. I tell you that story because it is very different from my own.

I own a cell phone but on occasion I don’t look at it regularly. While Michelle and I did connect via cell phone messages to set up an interview date for a week ago Saturday, she had sent follow up messages that Saturday morning stating that her schedule was filling up and could we meet Sunday instead.

I saw none of the messages and showed up at noon Saturday to a somewhat surprised and unglamorous Michelle. She asked me about the messages, she has sent. I apologized. She then said “Well as long as you’re here, we’ll just go ahead.” She added, “Nice to see you”. (I figured that last phrase was some kind of repentance for what she was thinking.) She apologized for her casual look, excused herself briefly and came back with a bit of added makeup and wearing a cute turban. She looked great. Once again she said, “Nice to see you.”

No wonder other entertainers like working with Michelle. I, too, was hooked.

Michelle’s next show at Myron’s at The Smith Center is on September 1. The show is a tribute to Carole King called “Tapestry Unraveled, The Complete Carole King album.”


2 responses on “Michelle Johnson: Busy but Lots of Prep for Smith Center Shows

  1. For some peculiar reason, the comments were disabled on this post. We regret the inconvenience.

  2. She is a very talented and busy person! Thank you for the complimentary and informative article. Hope to be out in November and perhaps catch one of her events!

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