"One more time, let's do it until its perfect," an electrical contractor urges his duet partner, a former recording artist. At the other end of the stage, a seasoned ballerina carefully tapes her slippers and taps her toes, waiting to take her turn. They're as eager as any contestant on American Idol, but with one difference: They're rehearsing for the fifth annual Serendipity: Celebrating Chicago's Seniors on Stage, the city's annual showcase for performers age 60-plus.
The high-gloss cabaret will raise its curtain for an opening night benefit performance on Wednesday, May 21, featuring a wine reception at 5 p.m. followed by the performance at 6 p.m. The cast will again take the stage for a general admission show the following day, Thursday, May 22, at 1:30 p.m. Both performances will be held at The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.
Serendipity performers have back stories as rich as their onstage talents. For some, the event is their first chance to showcase their gifts. For others, like James Moore Jr., 80, it's an opportunity to relive their glory days as entertainers. Today, Moore heads a family including 76 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But years ago he toured the country as a singer and skate-dancer. "These days Serendipity is my only chance to be in the spotlight and show everyone what I can do." Moore says. "And my family loves watching me flaunt my skills on stage."
The popular cabaret benefit, launched by retirement housing specialist Senior Lifestyle Corporation and the Chicago Department of Senior Services, raised approximately $400,000 last year. It is the largest funding source for Meals on Wheels Chicago, helping the program delivers food to homebound seniors. Reaching across the generations, the event also benefits The Chicago Academy for the Arts and After School Matters.
"Each year I am amazed and inspired by all the performers," says Bill Kaplan, founder of Serendipity and chairman of Senior Lifestyle Corporation. "And the experience is even more gratifying knowing we are all working together for a cause so close to our hearts."
The 31 performers were chosen from more than 100 hopefuls, with Serendipity veterans and rookies rolled into a dazzling lineup. The talented cast is guided by a distinguished production crew, led by Broadway veteran Ronna Kaye, Serendipity's director and choreographer. Musical Director Allan Kaye has conducted for more than 25 years and will direct Chicago's most renowned big band ensemble, The Michael Lerich Orchestra for the show's third straight year. The entire cast and professional production crew have spent months preparing to make this year's show the best yet.
"I was so honored to be chosen as a performer and finally get the chance to debut my line-dancing skills," says Navy veteran Leon Jamison, 69. "The rehearsals can be exhausting, but it will be a thrill to perform in front of a live audience, especially for such a wonderful cause."
Tickets for Serendipity are $15 and can be purchased at The Chicago Theatre box office or www.thechicagotheatre.com . Tickets are also available through TicketMaster, 312-902-1500 or www.ticketmaster.com. Serendipity benefit tickets cost $175 and can be reserved by calling 312-673-4343.