Let’s just be honest. Put those two little words together, "talent" and "show", and you’ll send most discerning individuals into post-traumatic flashbacks: embarrassing air guitar solos, excruciatingly off-tune renditions of tired show tune standards, dancers who couldn’t have been less graceful if their feet had been bound with lead weights. Never fear. The CCA talent show takes exception to the rule that the term "talent show" has to be a euphemism for two hours of torture. This was actually an event worth attending, and not just because it served a good cause. It is rarity to see someone like accomplished mandolin player Eva Scow, who has performed at Carnegie Hall and worked with acclaimed artists such as David Grisman and Bela Fleck, share a stage with local celebrities like Steve Ono and amateur performers like the soulful folk singer/songwriter Terry Robinson. Simply put, this show provides an extraordinarily unpredictable, pleasurable experience for artist and audience.
Central California Alliance presented its eighth annual talent show Tuesday, January 22, at Roger Rocka’s Dinner theatre. Talent ranged from professional performers of national distinction to local amateurs. Directed by local performer and Roosevelt High teacher Fred Bologna, the event drew a packed house and featured an ecclectic, quality mix of musical performances ranging from original folk to classical canon.
The event served as a fundraiser for CCA. President Beverly Senkowski helped organize the event, but she gave most of the accolades and credit to volunteer organizers Jim Daggs and Ron Wilson. Senkowski said that Daggs and Wilson worked tirelessly to organize and promote the show. Director Fred Bologna recruited and organized the talent with the same artistry and professionalism his other higher profile productions such as "Wrinkles" have become known for. Though the quality of the production came as a surprise to none, considering the esteemed reputation Bologna has earned for his past work, the quality of the talent was exceptional and unexpected.
The evening was hosted by Richard Gosvener who served as the straight man (no pun intended) to co-host Dennis Potts’ comic, intentionally ludicrous impersonations of various pinions of popular culture such as a gurney-riding, chain-smoking Brittney Spears and an ostentatiously dressed, puppy-wielding, IQ-challenged Paris Hilton.
The highlights of the show were difficult to categorize – sometimes they were large and awe inspiring, occasionally more subtle, gradually enfolding moments of absolute artistry. In some cases, they were affecting expressions of genuine emotion and humanity that hit close to home despite a more raw, unpolished form.
Well known violinist Patrick Contreras and guitarist Steve Ono broke more than a few strings and left an entire audience gasping with a wild, gypsy-influenced instrumental called "Heart of the Valley".
Acoustic folk musician Terry Robinson performed quiet, heart-wrenching original songs like "Chameleon," followed by joyful, exuberant powerhouse vocalist Lilly Murray, who belted out the beloved Gershwin classic "Embraceable You." Pianist and singer Bernie Siben brought a tear to more than a few eyes with the tragic ballad "If I Have to Live Alone," and then made the audience laugh until they cried again with a hilarious rendition of "What Kind of Self-Respecting Faggot Am I?" The night was topped off by Matt Mazzei, Eva Scow and Elizabeth Morgan performing the ever-popular "Canon in D Major", and though it was a bit of disappointment these profoundly talented musicians didn’t choose to play something more challenging or closer to their hearts, it was a pleasure for the audience to watch such amazing artists perform in such an intimate venue.
CCA is able to draw such exceptional talent for two reasons: it attracts artists who ethically want to support human rights or the arts, and artists who are drawn to an opportunity to present material of their choosing in a small, more personal venue – with the exception of Eva Scow, who insisted she was tricked into the event because, "Matt [Mazzei] promised me oodles of money".
Vocalist Lilly Murray, who has supported other CCA events, as well as fundraisers for the Gay Men’s Chorus, explains, "Someone once called me the Bette Midler of Fresno because I sing at a lot of functions that have to do with the CCA and that community. I am a great supporter of CCA but I also do it for the enjoyment."
Gay Men’s Choir Musical Director Richard Adamson illustrates the relationship between altruistic and artistic motives. "This event is in our yearly calendar because it’s really where our group got its start. The gay community can be compartmentalized; there are individual communities unto themselves and CCA really broaches the divide between those groups and functions as a sort of gay rotary if you will. This event in particular really illustrates that there’s a lot of talent in our community that doesn’t always come to fruition in other venues. So, this show gives people an opportunity to show off their talent and gives people in general a chance to get to know some of the people they wouldn’t normally form a connection with. It’s a real cross-over for many of us."
Steve Pepper, a respected local dancer, singer, actor and choreographer who has performed in countless Roger Rocka productions explains, "You can pick your material and do what ever you want to do. Because it’s a gay event, you can change gender and have fun with a performance in ways you might not be able to in other productions. At the same time, I’m a real supporter of anything that benefits the community. Many of us might feel we’re in the same boat so to speak. Maybe we don’t have enough money or time, or that we’re struggling in our own lives and don’t have much to give. Yet, there are people who are really in a bad way and are struggling in ways we can’t even comprehend. Anytime you can do something to help others, even if it’s not easy, if you can, you should."
If "you can, you should" is the resonating phrase that sums up this yearly CCA event. Performers and patrons alike benefit from this event in a way that may change the more painful assumptions we make about talent shows forever.