Performances strike a chord for causes

The Villages Theater Company contributes to several charities, including Camp Boggy Creek.

At the end of the year, Joe Bamford doesn’t look at what his company grossed, but who it helped. After a long career in music and entertainment, Bamford and his wife, Fatima, wanted to do some good. So they formed Get Off the Bus Concerts, the company responsible for bringing acts like KC and the Sunshine Band, Ronnie Milsap, Don McLean, REO Speedwagon and Trace Adkins to The Villages. Joe feels like 2019 was a successful charitable year, and it was a successful year for many other benefit concerts in The Villages, too. Get Off the Bus puts on several concerts a year in The Villages, but you don’t have to look long to find a benefit concert in the community. Most resident shows support some kind of charitable cause. The following listed are only a few examples of entertainers who have performed in The Villages in support of charity this year.

“(Benefit concerts are) a great way to draw attention to a meaningful cause while also ensuring people have a great time while you promote it,” said Brian Russo, director of entertainment.

Each Get Off the Bus show pairs up with a local charitable organization, and proceeds from meet-and-greet tickets and chance drawings for a signed guitar are donated to that organization.

Representatives from the charity also set up in the lobby before the show to spread the word about what they do.

A lot of it comes together because of the dedication of the artists, Joe said.

For example, when Olivia Newton-John played at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center, she was having severe back pain.

“She had previously had a bout of breast cancer, so this show was in support of breast cancer treatments in the Leesburg area,” Joe said. “After she finished her show, she went into the dressing room area and sat in a tub of ice because of the back pain, but there was a meet-and-greet and she didn’t want to miss it. So she got up and went in there and met those people. It’s just special. That’s what keeps me going.”

Many resident entertainers get the rewarding feeling, as well.

The Villages Theater Company raised $73,420 this year and has donated more than $103,000 since 2014, according to Judy Prior, president of TVTC.

The group has donated to a number of local causes including Operation Bless Fruitland Park, Camp Boggy Creek, the Melon Patch Player Youth Program, SoZo Kids and more.

“Once we started being successful and realizing, ‘Wow, look at all the money we’re raising and don’t need to put back into our plays,’ we wanted to do something with the money,” Prior said.

So the group became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Leaders typically get together and decide which charities to donate to around March.

Members of The Villages Pops Chorus found themselves in a similar situation.

“It’s important for us to have fun doing what we’re doing,” said Bill Davis, director of the Pops Chorus. “Then we realized the side benefit of being able to donate a lot of money to charity.”

This year, the group donated $47,500 to charitable causes, bringing the chorus’ total since 2014 to more than $161,000.

Members suggest different charities to support, and the Pops Chorus has donated to causes like Angel Snugs Inc., the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, the Sumter Youth Center, the Girl Scouts Alumnae Pajama and Book Drive and more.

“Members get such a huge rush out of the fact that we’ve been so successful and have been able to give to all of these charities,” Davis said. “It’s become a big part of who we are.”

The Opera Club of The Villages does fundraisers and takes individual donations, but the group’s two annual concerts, “An Enchanted Evening” and “Three Tenors Plus One” bring in the majority, according to Gerri Piscitelli, president of the Opera Club.

This year, the group raised around $70,000, Piscitelli said.

“Because funding has been cut in many schools, and the funding cut seems to hit the music and arts department first, we felt that it was necessary to support music in our schools,” Piscitelli said.

The Opera Club pays for private lessons for 10 instrumental and 10 vocal students a year. Each year, the group also awards four hefty scholarships to music students in Lake, Sumter or Marion Counties who aspire to pursue a future in music.

Students send an application, and the board looks over applications and announces who can audition for the scholarships.

Scholarships are then awarded in the amounts of $12,000, $10,000, $8,000 and $6,000.

“We are thrilled, proud and delighted that so many of our scholarship recipients have done so well,” Piscitelli said. “We invite them back to perform for us. They become music teachers, professors and aspiring opera stars. We see the results, and this is what motivates our members.”

Tickets are on sale now for the Opera Club’s next “Three Tenors Plus One” concert, which is a tribute to Luciano Pavarotti.

“Maestro Bill Doherty chooses artists who not only sing opera, but Broadway,” Piscitelli said. “They really create the feeling of the original three tenors with Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras. There is a lot of camaraderie among the three men, and in songs, they try to outdo each other.”

This year’s three tenors are Christopher Macchio, Steven Nanni and Devin Eatmon, with Dawn DiNome as the plus one. Two shows are scheduled for 3 and 7 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center.

Tickets for “Three Tenors Plus One” range from $15 to $50 and can be purchased online at thevillagesentertainment.com or at any Villages Box Office location.

“The program will be uplifting and leave a song in your heart,” Piscitelli said. “It’s very well-attended, because people love the spirit that it’s generated, as well as knowing that they’re contributing to local scholarships for students looking to pursue a career in music.”

Performer Alex Santoriello puts on several shows at Savannah Center every year and donates proceeds to several different causes.

This year, he said he raised around $27,000.

Santoriello is a Shriner, a Mason and a Rotarian.

“Now I have the time and ability to focus my energy on a lot of charitable causes,” Santoriello said. “A majority of the fundraising I do goes to kids.”

Santoriello’s 2019 appearances include performances in “My Fair Lady,” “Broadway and Beyond,” “Shaken Not Stirred” and “Carols By Candlelight.”

“Our partnering resident groups are incredibly talented and generous,” Russo said. “Virtually everything that they do goes to a number of charitable causes. So many of them put in tremendous effort to see to it that they are sharing their love of arts with the community while also doing what they can to uplift it.”

Senior writer Kristen Fiore can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5270, or kristen.fiore@thevillagesmedia.com.