A former backup singer for Keith Richards, one of the original cast members of Jesus Christ Superstar, an additional erstwhile backup singer for Carly Simon, and a local, loveable Santa Claus impersonator walk into an auditorium… Sounds like the opening of a joke, but really, it describes Hollywood’s long overdue competition for any and all talented folk 55-and-older also known as (and aptly named) Senior Star Search! Created by The Pink Lady and Barbara Van Orden in conjunction with Not Born Yesterday, this nod to the original 80’s Ed McMahon-hosted-talent showcase honors those 55-and-older former, current or budding professionals and their talent! Sporting cowboy hats, leather vests, Stilettos, bejeweled kaftans, and form fitting dresses each and every contestant’s countenance and posture belie their senior status. No, these are not your mothers’ grandmothers—or grandfathers for that matter!
“The inspiration for Senior Star Search came from my experiences with my Senior Star Power Productions ‘Rockin’ With the Ages shows,” writes The Pink Lady in her more-than-inspiring program note. “There are so many talented, energetic, and entertaining senior performers out there looking for opportunities to work and so few openings. As I thought about this and talked about it with others, a dream started to form. What began as a simple idea soon grew into a major event. My Senior Star Search partners, Barbara Van Orden and Amanda Blake Secola, and I sent out audition notices. We hoped to find enough people to have a good final competition – we ended up auditioning over 150 performers! Narrowing the field down to only 14 finalists was next to impossible, but we trust you’ll agree that all of them are winners… The over-55 crowd is the fastest growing sector of the US population, and the majority of those in this demographic are still vital and productive. With Senior Star Search, we want to give seniors a venue to ‘strut their stuff’ and prove to the world that ‘age is just a number’.”
Hosted by a gracious and gregarious James Gray, this summer’s Los Angeles competition held at the Barnsdall Park Gallery Theatre, featured every Broadway, cinematic, and songbook ballad from Man of La Mancha, to The Wizard of Oz and even showcased a number of patriotic valor or two! Aside from the mellifluous aspect of the extravaganza there were pearls of wisdom, anecdotes and witticisms of inspiration, with ages spanning from 55 to 86!
“I know roses are red, violets are blue; believe it or not, I’m 72!” quipped at most hip and black-brimmed-hat clad Butch Dubarri just a trifle bit reminiscent of a former member of The Gap Band upon taking center stage.
In all youthful, and follicularly retentive glory, Phil Jeffery couldn’t help but exclaim, and explain, “The program says I’m 67 years young, but I should be 68 – I was sick for a year”– Subsequently thereafter launching into soulfully smooth Maybe this time (they’ll believe this story…)
“I’m 37…no 73, joked a most distinguishably handsome yet Santa Clauseted (but only for the purposes of this performance; not in resemblance) David Curtis, who then went on to give advice to the youth of today, “Go out and play, and talk to people!” Then, as an almost ironic nod to said sentiment would commence by crooning Dream the Impossible Dream.
Sandra Miller Erkus, not at all irked at the prospect of turning 82 next year, disclosed not only this and couldn’t help but add, “…and it took me that long to look this good,” prior to delving into a decidedly powerful performance of All That Jazz!
An 82 years young Dominick Morra’s first admitted foray into fame occurred when he was 17 ¾, upon being cast in a Broadway show with Ethel Merman!
“I’m 58 and feel great!” declared first runner up Terri Olsen with all the charm of an ageless Brady girl—Marsha, Marsha, Marsha to be exact: But not before recounting her stint on the movie Xanadu and disclosing to nearly passing out upon witnessing Gene Kelly Alight the set! To speak nothing of regaling us with a tale about starring in Starlight Express roughly 5 months after her son was born.
But it was our sage and sophisticated winner, Sandy Mack who opined the most sound and sagacious advice before launching into a most righteous, and regal rendition of Over the Rainbow: “Listen to your elders and be very respectful. They have been where you’re trying to go.”
To say this showcase was inspiring would be an understatement, but it didn’t simply end at the contest’s conclusion. With Ronald Snyder as the musical director and accompanist, all went off without a hitch. Legendary showgirls in evening gowns (ages 69-89) additionally alighted the stage just prior to a rousing tribute to graceful and legendary Hollywood and Broadway Choreographer Miriam Nelson—a stunning 93 years young!
“It’s always wonderful being onstage especially with a wonderful audience like we had today. I’m telling you, you guys were great,” crowed an all too appreciative performer David Curtis. “And I’m just happy to wake up every morning…one foot goes in front of the other and to be able to perform in addition to waking up and walking is a gift… My third wife said, you’re nothing but a dreamer, but guess what? I like being a dreamer… All these nice folks, giving me confidence…? Holy smokes I’d think I’d died and gone to Heaven!”
“I must tell you I was totally blown away by the talent on that stage today,” gushed L.A.’s Next Great Stage Star co-producer (with Barbara Van Orden) Michael Sterling. “The show itself, as a whole, was fast-moving and interesting. Hearing the back stories of some of these people that [appeared] on the stage: Really awesome. I think the message behind The Pink Lady’s mission to ‘get up, get out, and get a life’ is clearly evident in a project like this. So I’m thrilled that it’s here and I hope it’s around for a long time!”
“I loved it! I can’t wait ‘til next year. It’s got to come [back] next year and the year after, the year after… I’ve never seen anything like it before,” exclaimed exceedingly actualized actor Ro Brooks. “The talent was phenomenal…[In part] because of the passion. That’s one thing you can’t study, you can’t practice. You can’t earn it: passion is internal! … Everybody was equally talented…they were off the Richter scale… I loved it all. The only downside of the whole event was that it’s over.”
“I’ll never feel old again. I mean, right? I have nothing to complain about and everything to look forward to,” declared the lovely and amazing actress in her own right–Lee Purcell.
Equally stunning senior Dawn Wells, best known as Gilligan’s Island’s Mary Ann executed some of her own inspiring, and amusing observations: “Isn’t it fabulous? I think it should be a national show… I’ve never heard Over the Rainbow sung more beautifully in my life. It really was something… I did the national tour of They’re Playing Our Song and it almost killed me. I went down to 102 lbs. I didn’t talk all day ‘cause I was afraid my voice. See…I can’t sing. But this is my era of music. They’re moving into this instead of the rock n’ roll of today and I really appreciate it!”
“This was awesome… I’ve been to a couple of…similar events. That they’re doing this stuff now is great!” exclaimed a most invigorating and animated Alison Arngrim. “My mother worked ‘til the day she died, and Carol Channing’s still performing. She’s in her nineties, so it doesn’t end, and a lot of these people were dancers. When you start dancing, and singing, the physical fitness doesn’t go away if you stay dancing and now seniors, are the Baby Boomers. That’s the hippies! We had half the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar up there…Streisand’s and Keith Richards’ back-up singer onstage! … And I’m like ‘Wait, these are old rockers getting up there and doing this! This is great!”
The esteemed panel of judges included George Chakiris, Michael Donovan, David Galligan, Michael Kelly, and Steve Stevens and I was lucky enough to catch up with Academy and Golden Globe winner George Chakiris to uncover what was going through his mind concerning the afternoon’s gala:
“It was a real responsibility. You want to be fair. I hope I was. But I thought that the first and second place winners were who I would have picked as well so I was pleased…”
And of course our story would not be complete without the impressions of our Senior Star Search creators, The Pink Lady and Barbara Van Orden respectively:
“There weren’t two winners today, there were 14 winners! Each and every one of them was phenomenal!” proudly declared The Pink Lady. “They were up there. They were of an age. They said ‘we own what we do’ and that’s what we want. We want to show the world that age is only a number. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a chronological number that has nothing to do with anything. It’s your attitude and gratitude.”
“It was so terribly exciting,” exclaimed Barbara Van Orden in stunning and shimmery black. “My goodness, the crowd, as you can see, many of the performers brought them right to their feet, standing ovations and the applause were tremendous. The judges were thrilled. They were so surprised at all the wonderful talent. They wanted everybody to win, but of course they can’t. But it was wonderful… Did you see some of the showgirls? The showgirls they were 69 to 95 years old…they looked wonderful! And they were delighted to be showgirls ‘cause they still think young at heart. They still think they’re glamorous and they are. [All in all] it went off very well, and it just goes to prove that there is talent out there in the senior world and people over 55 are not dead, or helpless, or somehow untalented…”
As to the future of Senior Star Search, The Pink Lady had no other vantage point but that of an upward gaze: “I am so proud to be able to represent these people. Our Senior Star Search will be a yearly thing. Hopefully it will be nationwide and then we’ll have a U.S.A. Senior Star Search Winner!”
All in all a most fun and rousing afternoon for all: And hey, what else can I (the article author) say? These folks are all true inspiration and exactly what I want to be when I grow up, giving new meaning further, of course, to the term ‘grow up’!!!
For more information an the Pink Lady and Barbara Van Orden along with Senior Star Search, please visit.