Michael McDowell is ready to shake things up a bit for his upcoming "Christmas Spectacular" on Dec. 15 in the Manship Theatre.

This time he's taking the stage all alone. Well, he will have his piano.

The show will mark his third "Christmas Spectacular," in which he usually is accompanied by a 25-piece orchestra.

He doesn't have anything against the orchestra. It always adds glitz and glamour to both his Christmas and June productions. But he simply wanted to try something different this time around.

"Playing solo will allow me a lot more freedom than playing with the orchestra," McDowell says. "When I play with an orchestra, I have to follow the music. The audience enjoys it when I have fun, and playing solo will allow me to add phrasing. I'll have more chances to improvise and connect with the audience."

That's not saying McDowell will be without glitz. The stage will be filled with Christmas trees and poinsettias, topped by a massive, overhead chandelier.

"It's 6 feet tall," he says. "I look at shows like the Grammys or Andrea Bocelli's concerts, and they're super high caliber. And their shows have a chandelier."

Still, McDowell had some concerns about seeking out such a prop for his show. He's not a big guy, and he's already sitting behind a 9-foot instrument.

"I searched last January and February for what I thought would be a good size chandelier for my show," McDowell says. "And there was no way to search for it without the 'Phantom of the Opera' chandelier popping up."

McDowell settled on a classic piece with several tiers.

"It's minimal but very elegant," he says. "And it balances the physical beauty of the production, taking it to the next level of production value."

McDowell will play a mix of sacred and secular Christmas favorites. Other than that, there are no rules for this show.

"You never know what might come of it," he says. "The Christmas show has always been a hair bit more structured than the spring show, but that's not the case this year."

And you never know who he might call up on stage with him.

"I always like looking into the audience, and if I can call a child up on stage to help with a song, I'd love it," McDowell says. "The first year, I saw a little girl on the front row, and I brought her on stage. It's something I like to do, because Allen Toussaint did it for me — he called me on stage during his concert, and that was my first performance in the Manship Theatre."

McDowell says he's also bringing a new perspective to the show. In the past, he approached it simply as an entertainer.

This time, he wants to acknowledge Baton Rouge, his hometown, in a big way.

"I've matured, and I'm not going to neglect Baton Rouge and the people who have helped me," he says. "I've received so much love and support from the people here, especially from the churches where I play piano — I'm now playing at Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. They've helped me get here, and I'm grateful to them."


Michael McDowell's Christmas Spectacular

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15.

WHERE: Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St.

TICKETS/INFO: $35-$50; students with ID, $12 at the door. (225) 344-0334 or manshiptheatre.org

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.