Written by Clay Barron

Blame it on a load of laundry. In the summer of 1978, a young Fred Tessler's vacation family stopped in Holland to catch up on some laundry. Tessler spotted a poster for Hope Summer Repertory Theatre's (HSRT) production of "West Side Story" and sparked a connection with HSRT that continues today.

Now a New York resident, Tessler returned Holland in 1987, when he was recommended to HSRT producing director Mary Schakel to replace that year's musical director who was unable to finish the summer. With two days notice he was diving right into a production of "The Sound of Music".

Tessler returned to HSRT for good beginning in 1995, and in 1997 helped create a new cabaret performance for the theatre. Along with HSRT choreographer Meribeth Kisner (choreographer for this summer's "Seussical the Musical") he created the cabaret show "Meet Me at the Backstreet", a compilation of Broadway songs about relationships.

"You know, it was a small beginning for the cabaret," said Tessler. "Our rehearsal space was like a small shed, and it was one of the hottest summers I can remember. We had both doors open trying to let the air in."

This year, Tessler creates and directs "Happy Holidaze!", a cabaret somewhat different to those is years past. Tessler has taken the cabaret in a slightly new direction this year creating a more Vaudeville style performance. From New Year's Eve to Christmas, "Happy Holidaze!" brings a musical celebration to the most well known, and many of the lesser known, holidays of the year.

"When the cabaret first started it was just a fun idea," said Schakel. "Now it has become an important part of the mix that we offer our audience, from the family shows in DeWitt to the slightly more adult material we can do at the Park Theatre."

In all likelihood the cabaret's success has something to do with the atmosphere of the show.

"I feel like people come to the cabaret each year knowing that it will have a more mature, and a more relaxed tone to it," said Tessler. "Because that really is what a cabaret is; a show that takes place in a bar or diner, or other similar location."

Since that first summer, the Cabaret has grown to become one of the most anticipated shows every year, with such productions as "Hooray for Hollywood," "G. I. Jive," and "All Night Diner".

"Fred's genius has greatly contributed to the growth of the cabaret's importance," said Schakel.

"Happy Holidaze!" runs at the historic Park Theatre, located on River Ave. between 10th and 11th streets and debuts July 1, running through August 6. All shows begin at 8:30pm. For more information, contact the Hope Summer Repertory Theatre ticket office at (616) 395-7890, or visit online at www.hope.edu/hsrt.