Izzo Trying to Help
East Lansing, MI - Tom Izzo stands on stage and takes a deep breath after his latest two-hour rehearsal for an upcoming Broadway-style show to benefit cancer research.
The Michigan State basketball coach is used to the spotlight, but not quite like this - with singers, tap dancers and actors rushing around stage on an ultra-polished fast break. Asked about his own dancing background, the 54-year-old native of Michigan's rural Upper Peninsula acknowledges he didn't have one prior to beginning rehearsal for ``Izzo Goes to Broadway'' two weeks ago.
``It was illegal in the UP,'' Izzo jokes to reporters.
Izzo has no singing background either, and it's unclear how much of that uncharted territory will be explored in the May 6 performance at Michigan State University's Wharton Center.
``There will be a version of singing,'' Izzo says in a voice still rough around the edges from a six-month basketball season. ``It will be like UP rap. In other words, there will be no octaves or anything. It will just be me doing the words.''
. He also has some professional and highly talented amateur help for the 75-minute, family-friendly show. It features six accomplished Broadway performers, music from several Broadway hits, the Izzo family, Spartan basketball players and a host of other guests.
The one-night-only performance likely will raise an estimated $135,000 for the American Cancer Society's Coaches vs. Cancer initiative through ticket sales alone. Tickets are still available.
The performance will give the public some fresh perspective on one of the nation's most successful coaches, just one month removed from the fifth NCAA Final Four appearance of his 14 seasons leading the Michigan State program. Izzo and the show's producer granted the media access to a recent rehearsal.
Goran Suton was the target of so many Izzo screaming fits during his Spartan career that he wondered aloud, mostly in jest, whether he would cause his coach to have a heart attack. Suton's eligibility is gone but Izzo is still screaming - this time, in a downright positive and joyous way - as the 6-foot-10 center nails a routine during rehearsal.
``G! Oh, G! I'm really impressed!'' Izzo yells at the senior who helped carry Michigan State to the recent NCAA title game against North Carolina.
er Michigan State basketball coach Gus Ganakas, for some further direction.
Michigan State players are practicing their routine for the first time tonight. After a dozen or so takes, they have their appearance down fairly well.
Greg Ganakas is impressed with their rapid improvement.
``The team ... I almost can't even believe that happened tonight,'' Ganakas says. ``Kind of a nightmare, kind of a fantasy. It wasn't a nightmare by the end. They were really happening.''
Izzo can't stop coaching even though tonight's basketball dribbling is part of a Broadway routine rather than a hoops practice.
``Quicker! Quicker! Quicker!'' Izzo screams as players dribble by on the Wharton Center stage.
Ganakas counts out the rhythm: ``One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!''
It doesn't feel right to Izzo, who starred as a Northern Michigan University point guard in the 1970s.
``Why do they have to take eight dribbles?'' Izzo asks Ganakas. ``I think they should take six.''
Clearly, Ganakas is doing the coaching tonight. The count stays at eight.
A dozen members of the Michigan State dance team practice one of their choreographed bits for the upcoming show. Izzo applauds, then shrugs and shakes his head, hoping he won't be asked to join the slick routine.
No such luck.
nce history, which consists mostly of brief Midnight Madness appearances to kick off each basketball season. Izzo has dressed up as Dracula and King Leonidas from the popular ``300'' movie about Spartan warriors. He's rappelled from the Breslin Center ceiling and rode into the arena on a motorcycle and on horseback.
But Izzo hasn't done anything like this. Nor did he expect he would become so immersed in the project.
``When this was first presented I'm not sure I realized the depth of what I was going be involved in here,'' Izzo says. ``I thought I was the cameo guy - just going to come in, wave, kiss a baby or two and hit the road. But that's not what I'm going to be doing. So I'm a little nervous about it but I'm also very excited about it.''
Tap dancers and singers, many of them Michigan State students, swarm the stage. Izzo is meeting many of the students for the first time tonight. He smiles for much of the two hours as the dedication of the theater and dance performers sinks in.
``It just gives me a whole new appreciation for another set of people in a different venue than the one I'm in,'' Izzo says. ``They're so good, so talented and so passionate.''
Izzo plays an accordion as part of the performance. He has plenty of speaking lines, and he wryly notes he won't have a TelePrompTer to rescue him.
some of the same qualities to his Broadway preparation. He's picking things up quickly.
``Niiiiiiice!'' Kellyn Uhl, a Michigan State University theater major helping with dance routines, proclaims as Izzo completes a nifty top hat-and-cane move.
``Whoa! ... you've been practicing!'' yells one of the Spartans assistant coaches sitting in the Wharton Center seats off stage.
Izzo's wife, Lupe Izzo, has benefited from more practice time and previous experience. She manages some waltz moves with a grace that her husband can't quite match.
But Izzo notes he has another week to practice.
The Izzo children - 14-year-old Raquel and 8-year-old Steven - also are involved with the show. Steven sits on his father's lap and taps a cane on the stage while dancers swirl around them during the rehearsal. Izzo whispers something to his son and the energetic youngster smiles.
``As nervous as I am to do some things here, deep down I sit there and I think of what the cause is for,'' Izzo says. ``You think of what people have to go through with cancer. So as nervous as I'll be, it will be easier if I keep thinking of why we're doing it. That's what it will make it better.''
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Posted: 5/6/09 11:39PM ET