TRAVERSE CITY — Jeff Daniels sings?
Yes, and the versatile Michigan actor, TV and movie star, playwright, theater owner and recent Emmy winner will sing and play guitar Jan. 23 at the City Opera House.
Expect diversity — folk, blues, rock, talking songs, witty lyrics, and quiet poignant songs like “Grandfather’s Hat.”
Widely known for his acting, Daniels has been playing guitar since the 1970s but only in recent years began doing concerts. He has turned out five albums: “Live and Unplugged to Benefit the Purple Rose (2006),” “Keep it Right Here (2010),” “Grandfather’s Hat” and “Live at the Purple Rose, both in 2012.
Many song titles hint at the tales he tells: “Are You as Excited About Me as I Am?” “Revisionist Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Blind Date” and “Recreational Vehicle.”
The concert is billed as a benefit to the Opera House, which is struggling to cover a $250,000 gap in its budget this year. Daniels will be paid for his performance, but audience members who purchase the high-price $125 benefit “circle ticket” also can attend an after-show private party with Daniels.
Regular tickets are $32 and $40.
“I’m happy to come and help,” Daniels said.
He said the City Opera House’s funding problem is a common issue for many venues. Daniels does 10 shows during the Christmas holiday season every year that help net about $100,000 for Purple Rose Theatre operations.
“Our country and communities could do a better job of supporting culture, and many do,” he said. “The problem we fight against is the attitude that we don’t need live performances. It’s looked at as something that is not a necessity. We have TV, iPads, phones. That’s hard to overcome.”
But he thinks live performance will endure.
“Live performances have survived centuries of change,” he said. “Movies were going to be the end but weren’t. Then it was TV, and it wasn’t. Live performances in places like the Opera House are just for the night and that means it is just for you that night. And that’s a value to people.”
Daniels founded the Purple Rose Theatre Company in 1991 in Chelsea. It offers shows 42 weeks a year and brings about 40,000 people into that community annually. The Purple Rose also has an education component that includes theater classes, apprentice programs, readings and lectures. Both the theater and education program have had a positive economic impact on the town of 5,000 near Ann Arbor, he said, spawning new restaurants, coffee houses, art galleries, bars, hotels as well as bed-and-breakfasts. It also has created jobs for professional theater artists.
“The trick is programming, “he said. “Whether it is unique to Chelsea or could be done elsewhere is for others to decide. I do know we helped Chelsea.”
He was “surprised but grateful,” to win the Emmy for Best Actor for his work in “The Newsroom,” which HBO renewed this week for a third year and announced it would resume shooting in the spring.
“It’s been the challenge of my career and the dialogue, I love it,” Daniels said. “To be in my 50s and get a role like this by writer Aaron Sworkin, I can’t help but be inspired. He’s one of a kind, an original. I hope I get to do it for years.”
Daniels, 58, has played in about 60 movies. His big break into film came with “Tears of Endearment” in 1983, when he was 28. His resume includes everything from “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals” to “Dumb and Dumber” with Jim Carrey.
“An Evening with Jeff Daniels” starts at 7:30 p.m. at the City Opera House.