Jack Lenz, Elaine Overholt and the women of Big Voice help the Good Neighbours’ Club
It was a Directors Dinner like The Good Neighbours’ Club had never seen. This was no stodgy affair; it was an evening made magic by the power of story and fifteen gutsy women who sang their hearts out.
The women are all featured performers in a new television show called BIG VOICE which will air on the W Network. Each week, Elaine Overholt, vocal coach to the stars (Richard Gere, Rene Zellweger), gets to the heart of each woman’s singing persona and what’s holding her back, helping her dig deep within to find her inner power and strength through song. Every episode culminates in a fully produced performance of each woman’s song, usually one written by, for or about her.
One of the performers is Kelly Downs, the Director of Development and Volunteers at The Good Neighbours’ Club, a day club for homeless men who are fifty and over. Kelly is self possessed and beautiful, and it’s hard to imagine that at one time her life was as full of trouble as some of the members of the Club. BIG VOICE had filmed Kelly at the club and when Jack Lenz, the head of Lenz Entertainment, the production company behind the TV show, heard that The Good Neighbours’ Club was in urgent need of a fundraising event, he and his production team jumped in with both feet to bring the women’s acts to the stage.
Virtually every performer who is part of the first season of the TV show also performed, donating their time and their considerable talents to help older, homeless men in desperate need of hand up, not a hand out. And until the first rehearsal in the week leading up to this November 25 show called BIG HEARTS, BIG NIGHT, none of them had ever met before. But these sisters of song came together to help older men in their greatest time of need. And all of us involved with The Good Neighbours’ Club are truly grateful.
I’d love to tell you more about their stories – but the television show will do that so much better than I, so I will simply share a little about the incredible gifts they brought to this very special evening.
Kelly Downs kicked off the evening with a rousing number and later sang a touching song written by her father, a musician, who died unexpectedly only weeks ago, still beaming with pride in his daughter’s final performance for the tv show.
The gracious Tyla Bolte sang a vampy fun number about stepping out into the world, stunning in a gorgeous floor-length gown and black veil draping part of her face.
Nuala Byles, an extremely accomplished Creative Director in advertising and design, sang a song that celebrated her love of life, which she has held more dear since a near death experience. Christopher Ward wrote the beautiful song “Step Into the Light” especially for her. Christopher Ward’s other songs include “Black Velvet,” made popular by Nuala’s sister Alannah Myles.
Michelle B. is the owner of one of Toronto’s most loved restaurants, The Corner House, near Casa Loma. In her previous life, Michelle B. had a top 40 hit and toured North America. Michelle wrote the song she sang called Slippin Away, a video of which was shot with accliamed Music Director “Little X.” Michelle B. and The Corner House very kindly donated an extraordinary bottle of wine for the auction.
Leslie Adlam brought the house down with a rousing Gospel number that didn’t seem possible coming from a Business Analyst for one of Canada’s investment dealers located in the city’s financial district. Besides her gift of song, Leslie’s sense of humour had kept Elaine Overholt and the women of BIG VOICE in great spirits throughout the rehearsals.
An effervescent singer with great presence, Carol Fawcett sang with sisters Nanci Francis, Victoria Wright, and Tracey Vogrin. Together, they nailed a fabulous Big Band number inspired by their mother who was, in fact, a big band era singer.
Laura Robinson sang a lovely song she wrote for her father which she played with her brother, professional jazz saxophonist Chris Robinson. She also generously and beautifully sang back up for various other women over the course of the night. Laura is also one of the inventors of the game “Balderdash” and one of the authors of the most recent “Chicken Soup” book. Laura very kindly donated autographed books and games for the auction.
Lisa Hildebrandt had a spell in her life where things were going about as well as they do in a country and western song – and that inspired her choice of musical genre. She held her own against any professional country and western singer and did a magnificent job.
Liz West is known and loved to Torontonians as the Entertainment Reporter for CityTV – but tonight she didn’t report, she was a STAR! Joined by Josh Lavoie, who had also sung with Lisa Hildebrandt, they sang beautiful harmonies and looked like they were having the time of their lives.
Margot Jane Kempton sang with such warmth, the whole room fell in love with her. She was joined by Tyla Bolte and Laura Robinson.
Roxy Cummings lost both of her parents at a very young age and was basically left to raise herself. She’s done an extraordinary job – and no one who heard her that night could do anything but remember her.
Cara Volchoff, the creative producer of BIG VOICE, joined the women on stage for a breathtaking performance of “Natural Woman,” backing up the incomparable Elaine Overholt. Cara was fabulous to work with as we pulled the details together and she is hard at work on VERB.ATIM for the Helix Dance Project, which opens at The Isabel Bader Theatre on December 11 (for tickets call 416.618.1682).
Elaine Overholt told the stories of these women, introducing each one with love and thoughtfulness. Elaine Overholt rehearsed each of these women’s numbers, accompanying them when Jack Lenz was not. She held the audience spell bound and in the palm of her hand at the same time.
And then there is Jack Lenz. Jack saw senior men down on their luck and in trouble and asked how he could help. Jack Lenz is a world renowned musician and composer in his own right. He’s probably the busiest person you could ever meet – and yet he threw a tremendous amount of support and care into pulling together a fundraiser that will see at least 30,000 meals be served to men who otherwise would go hungry and face greater peril in the streets.
Jack Lenz then made a sizable donation on top of that which will allow the work of the Good Neighbours’ Club, under the very capable leadership of Dr. Bruno Scorsone, to continue. A remarkable man, Jack Lenz embodies the very spirit of giving and generosity.
A big round of applause also goes to our technical team who donated their time, Stage Manager Nicole Paserin and our Lighting Operator Michael Bergmann who brought along colleague, Mike Wilson, to run the spot. To Mark and Laurie Rosenfield who offered immeasurable support in helping to set this up, to GNC’s Helen Hawkins, Kelly Downs, Adrienne McLennan, Charles Hill and Bruno Scorsone, to Babble On’s Deborah Keegan who worked tirelessly to help organize this event, and to Chris Lawrence, our fabulous auctioneer for the evening — well done. We couldn’t have done this without you.
Every one of you who was part of this event looked at the increasing need of those living in poverty in very hard times and said, “you are not alone. I will stand with you.” And that is the mark of a very good person.