Talent wanted: Much-anticipated summer tradition tonight at rec center
Jamestown Community Chorus Director B.J. Whitehouse often reminds members of the choir that the word “community” comes before “chorus” in its name. Thursday night the group will present the 24th edition of the annual talent show, and the accent is on community.
The annual talent show planned for Aug. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the recreation center is one of the most highly anticipated cultural events of the summer. It draws performers and audience members from Jamestown and beyond. It is also the primary fundraising event for the chorus. There were two audition nights earlier this week that helped to narrow the field down to approximately 15 acts.
According to Jessica Wilson, who sings soprano in the chorus and acts as the group’s publicist, the talent show always features singers, but past shows have included storytellers, dancers, musicians and even jugglers.
“It’s wonderful fun,” Wilson said. “It’s a very safe place for performers to try out a skill. It’s always positive for the audience, and there’s a wonderful sense of a community summer event. That’s why I like it.”
A promising young ventriloquist by the name of Max Hubbard was among those auditioning on Monday night. He was hoping to make it to his second talent show. Max is 14 years old and about to start the eighth grade at Lawn School. Although he is an award-winning visual artist, he was at the rec center to showcase his ventriloquism and comedy skills, working with two characters – Lucky the Dog and the Possum.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Max said.
The origins of the talent show coincide with the beginning of Whitehouse’s term as director 24 years ago. He said the show is one of the most fun things the chorus does, and that people come from neighboring towns to participate.
“It’s a great fundraiser for the chorus, but it’s also a great funraiser for the community,” Whitehouse said.
An 11-member vocal group known as Summersong was on hand to present its skills. The group’s repertoire focuses on tunes from the Great American Songbook, as well as light jazz numbers. The group’s audition piece was a song called “Sway,” which was adapted from a Spanish song called “Quien Sera.” “Sway” was a hit by Dean Martin in the 1950s.
According to group member A.O. Gutierrez, last year Summersong did the Johnny Mercer tune “Dream.” In 2011, the group performed Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing).”
“People should come to the talent show because it’s your neighbors getting up in public, taking risks and putting something out there that nobody else is trying to do,” Gutierrez said.
Storyteller Ava White was back auditioning for what she hopes will be her seventh appearance at the talent show. Ava is 17 years old and will be a senior at the Wheeler School in Providence this year. For her story, Ava chose “A Swim” by Roald Dahl.
“It’s about a cruise ship and a competition,” she said. “Things don’t work out so well.”
Ava got her start in storytelling when she was in the fifth grade. The school librarian was a storyteller and asked every student in the class to tell a 30-second story. Ava’s story lasted for five minutes.
Dorothy Strang is vice president of the community chorus. After more than 50 years of singing as an alto, Strang has more recently begun singing soprano. She is taking voice lessons to become a chorus soloist. This year she is also serving as one of the producers of the talent show along with Mark Male, who is also the show’s emcee.
“The last couple of years we’ve had a nice array of people come to audition and to perform from the island and off the island as well,” Strang said. “Last year we had a lot more kids and families, which is really good.”
Strang moved to Jamestown six years ago and joined the chorus immediately. She has been at every talent show since.
“This is the culmination of Jamestown’s summer cultural life,” Strang said. “There’s a lot of culture in our town, and this is culture with a lower case ‘c,’ not high culture. But it’s talent, it’s community, and it’s an awful lot of fun. It’s our major fundraiser, but we also do it as a contribution to the life of the community.”
Where else but at the talent show auditions are you likely to find a group called Melissa & the Vanfellas? Led by vocalist Melissa Kerins, the group features the dance moves and background vocals of Whitehouse, Male and John McCauley, as they work their way through the Martha & the Vandellas classic, “Dancing in the Street.”
Tickets are available at the door for $7. Seniors get a $2 discount.