When “I Remember Christmas” opens Friday in Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston native Katherine Strohmaier will be in the spotlight in the city where she got her first paying job on stage nearly 16 years ago.Between then and now she’s performed around the world pursuing a stage career she discovered at age 9 at the Lewiston Civic Theatre. “I Remember Christmas” also stars sisters Ellen and Margaret Travolta, who live in Coeur d’Alene. The show was created by Ellen, 75, the oldest child in the Travolta family, and contains family stories, skits and music. Her youngest brother, movie star John Travolta, is expected to attend a showing.
“It’s a big secret” as to when, says Strohmaier in a phone interview from the Coeur d’Alene Resort, where performances will take place.
Inland 360 caught up with Strohmaier to talk about her work and the show, which she says focuses on the heart and family part of Christmas.
360: What has it been like to work with Ellen Travolta and her husband, Jack Bannon?
Strohmaier: Ellen and Jack have lived here for a few decades and I met them 16 years ago at the summer theater where I was in a show with Jack. He’s the dearest man. Over the years she and Jack have both performed in summer theater productions up here. They’re old pros. They’ve done a ton of theater, film and TV. They know what they’re doing and they have good taste, but luckily nobody is taking themselves too seriously.
I have hard time with Christmas. I can get really sad and I don’t like the pressure of it. I want it to be special and simple. When I’m doing a Christmas show that really saves me — spending time with people creating something. It’s nothing but laughs with them everyday.
360: In the show you perform some songs by actress and singer Rosemary Clooney, who you portrayed in series of acclaimed performances in Milwaukee, Wis., in 2005. Would you include that in a list of career highlights?
Strohmaier: The Rosemary Clooney material ranks up there. I guess I’ve read enough about her by now that I feel I know her. I think that anybody who watched her over the years felt they knew her, too. Digging into that kind of material is really satisfying. Her music is built on warm, solid lyrics. They really don’t write ’em like they used to.
360: What other roles rank high for you?
Strohmaier: My first professional gig was (in Coeur d’Alene) 16 years ago. I think that absolutely was a highlight, just realizing I can get paid to do this, it really does exist.
The concert I did last year, the France trip, is easily on top. It was a revue of Cole Porter songs. We had two male singers and two female singers and a great orchestra and performed in an opera house in a city west of Paris. Honestly, Christmas in Paris is pretty lovely.
360: You were also in a Starbucks commercial in the last couple years?
Strohmaier: I’ve sold out and done the random Starbucks commercial. You don’t even see me but it sure paid some bills for a little while. It didn’t make me rich. There were just flashes of me. I don’t say anything, which is a whole other level of pay, but it took the edge off my financial discomfort for awhile.
360: I understand you would like to return to Paris?
Strohmaier: I’m going to teach another semester at Cornish (College of Arts) in Seattle then I’m hoping in May to move to France. I don’t have a plane ticket yet. I don’t have many firm plans. I just have some airline miles and some big ideas. I also accept that it can all change. I know my career will look a lot different — if I have one over there. They’re doing a lot of American theater in Paris, some in English and some in French. The form I’m most familiar with is happening over there. I’m just seeing whatever music things I can explore. It’s a whole different scene and a whole different culture, artistically.
360: What advice would you give to a young person wanting to start a career as a professional performer?
Strohmaier: I’d say try to broaden your range of skills as much as you can and learn as much as you can about the business, especially if you’re from small-town Idaho. Don’t focus just on theater, arts, performance because the people who succeed and who get more work, but also feel better in the career, are the ones who cultivate all their other interests. You gotta have other stuff. Anything you learn about the world informs your work on stage. That’s easily as important as all the skill-building things. … And you can learn something from every single person you work with. There is something whether you see it or not.
If You Go
What: “I Remember Christmas” featuring Lewiston native Katherine Strohmaier, Ellen and Margaret Travolta, Jack Bannon and Patrick Treadway
When: Friday to Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays
Where: Coeur D’Alene Resort Shore Room, 115 S. Second St., Coeur d’Alene
Cost: $25, available by calling (866) 835-3025 or online at cdachristmas.com