Superstar!

Or how a holiday party got out of hand and eventually raised nearly a million for charity


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Nobody in showbiz has Jerry Viviano’s number on speed dial.

He doesn’t have an agent.

He is not a professional entertainer.

Nevertheless, Viviano, a member of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park, has put on one of the most popular holiday shows in Greater Kansas City for the past 25 years.

“This show would have never have made it past a couple of years without the hand of God — no question about it,” said Viviano.

“Jesus Christ has always been the main focus of this show,” he continued. “That’s what makes this show different from other shows. . . . We keep the main thing the main thing.”

The Viviano Variety Benefit Show has become a holiday tradition for some people in the Kansas City area.

“People come back year after year,” said Viviano. “One [couple] moved to Minneapolis, and they still come back for the shows.”

And what shows they are — singing, dancing, juggling, fire-eating, yo-yoing, jokes, solo acts, a band. All clean and family-friendly, with a meal, done in the style of those great variety shows so popular during the golden years of network TV.

It’s been great entertainment for a great cause — almost $1 million raised in 24 years for various charitable and community programs. Since 1998, proceeds from the shows have alternated between the Don Bosco Centers and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

The tradition will continue when the curtain rises on the 25th anniversary Viviano Variety Benefit Show on Nov. 21 at the Rose Theater at Rockhurst High School, 9301 State Line Road in Kansas City, Mo.

The show’s origins actually reach back 30 years ago, to a Christmas party Viviano and his wife put together for a few friends at their home.

“I got up spontaneously and did a little number — I think it was [a song] by Dean Martin or Elvis Presley,” said Viviano. “And the following year I got up and did a number, and someone else got up and did a number.”

The parties continued and Viviano would give performances in the persona of Dean-o, Frank Sinatra, and other entertainers. In the early 1980s, it was just five acts, with Viviano as master of ceremonies and singer.

“And it was at that point, I remember, that people would come to the party, but it was no longer the focal point — it was no longer [about] a Christmas party with meatballs,” said Viviano. “It became, ‘When will the show start?’”

The Viviano home became too small for the growing party/show. Also, he received what he calls a “divine inspiration” about the show while making a religious retreat.

“People were having so much fun, [I thought] why not get a bigger auditorium, get the food donated and volunteers to help, and donate the proceeds to a charity?” said Viviano.

For the 1985 show, he asked his pastor, Father Tony Lickteig, if he could put on the show at the parish. This was the first time admission was charged, and they raised $5,000 for Shalom House, a ministry for the homeless in Kansas City, Kan.

Over the years, the number of acts grew and the locations changed. More and more family members and friends became part of the show. The number of acts increased, and production values and performances reached professional levels.

This year’s show promises to be as good — maybe better — than those of years past.

A few of the acts include award-winning jazz artist Joseph Vincelli playing flute and saxophone, juggler and fire-eater Vince Vega, the female barbershop quartet 4’s Company, dancing stars Louis Bar and Laura Cantu, comedian David Naster, the Boulevard Band, and a pre-show holiday show with the Miller-Marley Minitainers. Viviano family members will sing classic Christmas songs.

The doors open at 4:30 p.m. with an Italian dinner buffet from Cascone’s Restaurant. The pre-show entertainment begins at 5 p.m.; the variety show starts at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $35 for reserved seats and $25 for general admission. Tickets may be purchased by calling (913) 433-2033, or by calling Holy Cross Parish at (913) 381-2755. Or go to the Web site at: sprigel@catholic charitiesks.org.

For more information, visit the Web site at: www.vivianovarietyshow. com.

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