Performers from across the West Valley will join more than 100 current “VYTkids” and alumni cast members for Valley Youth Theatre’s VYTal Affair-athon, an eight-hour, Jerry Lewis-style virtual event to be streamed live from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 21 on vyt.com and on Facebook.
Litchfield Park, Buckeye, Glendale and Surprise will be well represented in this year’s fundraiser, which also will feature well-known stars of stage and screen – like Broadway’s Nick Cartell, who recently completed a two-and-a-half-year run as Jean Valjean in the National Tour of “Les Misérables” – along with beloved youth performers from across the Valley.
The virtual fundraiser replaces the 27th annual VYTal Affair. It’s second year the COVID-19 crisis prompted VYT to take the event online, but there are benefits to the virtual platform.
“Being a part of the event last year was such a special experience,” said 22-year-old Brandon Brown of Surprise, who performed in five VYT productions from 2013-2018. “It was so uplifting to see all of my friends come together to support a theatre we grew up with. How incredible that we got to share the love of theatre during a very difficult time for people last year.”
Glendale’s Anna Mettes, 19, will perform in the fundraiser for the fourth consecutive year. The VYT alum performed in eight shows in five years. She’s now a sophomore at Grand Canyon University working toward a bachelor’s degree in theater and drama with a double minor in dance and musical theater – and she hopes to strike it big in New York City one day.
“VYT has been the place where I have grown and learned the most about myself as a performer and as a person,” she said. “They helped me to formulate the dreams I have for my life and gave me real hope for those dreams to become a reality.”
Veterans like Brown and Mettes will be joined by younger performers throughout greater Phoenix – including 12-year-old William Richardson of Litchfield Park.
“I love performing and I love singing,” said Richardson, who is part of VYT’s show choir, VYTweens. “If being part of this VYTal Affair-athon raises money for the arts, for the theater and the community, then that is a great accomplishment, especially after the year of Covid.”
Added 10-year-old Luca Grasso of Buckeye, who performed in “Tuck Everlasting” and is part of VYTweens, “I feel theatre allowed me an escape during the pandemic to help forget the frustration and sadness of what was happening around the world.”
Luca’s big sister, 15-year-old Gabriella Grasso, shares his love of theater. She performs with the teen show choir, VYTeens, and was part of VYT’s “Matilda the Musical” and “They Chose Me!”
“I fell in love with theater when I was about 8 and saw ‘The Little Mermaid’ on the Herberger stage,” she said. “I, too, wanted to be part of the magic. Acting in shows has since boosted my confidence tremendously. Being on stage is one of the most electrifying feelings I have ever experienced.”
Like the Grassos, performers across the decades jumped at the opportunity to perform in the fundraiser and raise money for VYT.
“This event is an opportunity to showcase the incredible talent of our performers to people around the world,” said Bobb Cooper, VYT’s longtime artistic director. “The cast for this fundraiser includes gifted local performers as young as 9 years old, seasoned professionals who were in our shows 30 years ago and everyone in between. It’s going to be a day of amazing performances.”
Most of the performances for VYTal Affair-athon were pre-recorded in July. In addition to vocal numbers, the event will include live Zoom interviews with alumni, multi-track performances and a few surprise guests.
A highlight of VYTal Affair-athon is the 21-year reunion of the cast of VYT’s “West Side Story,” which was staged at the Herberger Theater in 2000. Five alumni performers from the original production – Nick Cartell, Katie “Rex” Casey, Chris Ciccarelli, Sharie “Combs” Nievar and Ian Sidden – will come together for a virtual performance of the powerful “Tonight Quintet.”
The goal is to raise $250,000 to ensure the nonprofit theater can continue offering its signature fee-free programming and low-cost ticket pricing.
“It’s impossible to express our gratitude for the support we’ve received over the last 18 months,” said Cooper. It has touched our hearts and reaffirmed our commitment to inspire young people to be their very best– on stage and, more importantly, in life.”
Each hour of the telethon will be hosted by a local celebrity, including Yetta Gibson, Gina Salazar Hook, John Hook, Brad Perry and Carey Peña. The fundraiser also will include a silent auction featuring travel, entertainment, skin care, spa, hotel, food and beverage and dozens of other packages.
VYT also will pay tribute to Capital Group and Bill Lavidge, winners of this year’s Corporate and Individual VYTALITY Awards (Valley Youth Theatre Applauds Leadership Impacting Today’s Youth).
“This fundraiser will jump-start the next phase of Valley Youth Theatre,” said Cooper.
Eleven-year-old Reagan Little of Buckeye can’t wait to be part of this phase.
“This year has taught me patience,” she said. “I hope to perform with my friends, on stage, in person again.”
She won’t have to wait long, as the theater just announced its return to live performances. VYT will stage “Spookley the Square Pumpkin, The Musical” Oct. 1-31. Rounding out the season are the 25th annual production of “A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Junie B. Jones, The Musical” and “High School Musical.”
High-profile performers who got their start at VYT include Emma Stone, Jordin Sparks, Kimiko Glenn, Chelsea Kane, Max Crumm, Charity Angel Dawson, Matt Dallas, Columbus Short, Nick Cartell and Sam Primack.
For information about VYTal Affair-athon sponsorships, donations or providing an in-kind gift to the telethon, visit www.vyt.com.