ShowUS Montclair will put this town’s hidden talent on display
There’s a lot of hidden talent in Montclair.
On Saturday April 30, much of it will come out of hiding, as residents take to the stage at Lackawanna Plaza for ShowUS Montclair, organized by the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence.
The idea to bring a talent show to Montclair came when the fund’s executive director, Masiel Rodriquez-Vars, and fund board member LeAnne Korbel attended a similar event in Morris County — “Morristown on Stage.”
“We were sitting in the audience and from the first act, it was a singer, and she was OK,” Rodriquez-Vars said. “And we looked at each other and LeAnne said, ‘Oh my God. Montclair talent could totally dominate a talent show because we know this town is filled with so many creative people.’”
Rodriquez-Vars said after attending the event, the organizers came up with Showdown Montclair in 2018.
“We crafted an event that highlights the hidden talent that’s in Montclair, and we wanted to not only put on a really great talent show, but we also wanted to tell the stories behind the performers,” Rodriquez-Vars said. “We had a hunch that the talent would likely have some interesting stories that revealed some powerful things about our community.”
The event included lip-sync battles. Then-Montclair High School Principal James Earle, then-Nishuane Elementary School Principal Jill McLaughlin (now the district’s director of elementary education) and then-MHS football coach John Fiore performed as the ABeyC Hive to Destiny Child’s “Survivor.”
Rodriquez-Vars said it was a very appropriate song given all that they have to survive in schools, and they were incredible.”
“They put on wigs; they own their inner Beyonce,” she said. “They brought down the house.”
That first event showcased a Montclair police officer who was a country music singer, teachers who were jazz singers and dancers and students who were singers and songwriters. The event also had a space for community members to showcase their own talents.
In the fall 2020, the foundation hosted the all-virtual ShowUP Montclair, asking the community to show up to support students and teachers during the coronavirus pandemic, and support MFEE’s programs.
This year, the event goes back to its roots with an on-stage showcase of 15 acts ranging from standup comedy to singing and dancing.
“They include Becky Veduccio-Langton, who was on America's Got Talent. She’s wildly funny and she’s a Montclair mom. She has a fair amount of … parent and mom comedy that I think many people will be able to relate to,” Rodriquez-Vars said. “We also have an incredible inspiring dance troupe called ‘Beyond the Boogie,’ and they have recently moved to Montclair.”
Other acts include Leslie Masuzzo, a Hillside Elementary School third grade teacher, who will be singing. Jessica Alvarez, a kindergarten teacher at Nishuane Elementary School and the daughter of longtime Watchung School teacher Nancy Alvarez, will be signing Broadway showtunes as well.
“And then we have one of our bilingual tutors, Joe Colwell, who is going to be performing a duet/group performance with his mentee,” Rodriquez-Vars said. “We have a Costa Rican ballet folklórico group primarily based out of St. Peter Claver Church on the South End, which has a very large Latino community. So, they’ll be dancing and we have a couple surprise acts as well.”
The host of the evening will be Tony Award winner and five-time Tony nominee Laura Benanti.
"I well know how arts can bring together a community, and I am so happy to help MFEE do just that. Montclair is a wonderful place to live because of the incredible diversity of cultures and talent present in our town and public schools,” Benanti said. “To host a night in celebration of that, and to support the inspiring work that MFEE does for our children, is truly an honor."
Rodriquez-Vars said the events help support the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence’s programs for Montclair students. She said some of its programs were launched during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and the funds collected during these events will help sustain these programs.
“I think what the show does is that it brings together talent. It brings together community members and it really highlights how much this community cares about supporting our schools,” Rodriquez-Vars said.
The effort will support programs such as a poetry slam at Buzz Aldrin Middle School, an Intergenerational Story Slam that paired high school students and Montclair senior citizens to write poetry, and a ballroom dance pilot program at Renaissance at Rand and Buzz Aldrin middle school that started pre-pandemic using ballroom dance to help students connect and build social skills.
It also supports programs like the fund’s Peer Educational Engagement Program, Navegadores Escolares (to help Spanish-speaking families navigate district and community resources), Entrenadores Escolares (a bilingual after-school program for teens) and Oruguitas (a similar program for elementary school students).
There’s also a new pilot program, a subset of PEEPs — a six-week series where students learn to use nature as a meditative healing experience.
“We know that the arts are a powerful way to reach students to provide a kind of excitement in school and engagement, but also to provide a space for healing,” Rodriquez-Vars said. “And our kids really need as many experiences that will help them heal right now.”
Tickets are on sale now, and the cost of each ticket is a tax-deductible donation to the fund. Prices range from $35 for general admission to $120 for family tickets. Tickets are available at mfee.org. Sponsors can sign on at givebutter.com/ShowUS_Montclair.