Cherry Hill has definitely “got talent”

Devon Braunstein ('10)/ Eastside Managing Editor

On Sunday, April 18, at 7 p.m. at the Cherry Hill West auditorium, the Cherry Hill Education Foundation put on yet another successful production for the third consecutive year— though this year’s entertainment consisted of a variety of community-wide talent rather than solely dance.  Cherry Hill’s Got Talent, directed by Drew Molotsky, began with an opening dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” performed by public school administrators Marta Audino, John Cafagna, Joanne DiGiaccomo, George Guy, Christopher Hall, Beth Anne Kob, Willam Marble, Allison Staffin and Anthony Trongone, all looking as if they had just risen from the dead in their zombie-like apparel and make-up.

The mood of the show took a comedic turn as emcee Greg Gagliardi introduced the show and the four judges: Michael Boyd, a play and musical director and writer who recently assisted the director of Hair with his upcoming show; Katie Nanni, a Cherry Hill West graduate who is currently a part of a Broadway production of Mary Poppins; Arnie Silver, a singer, song writer and founder of rock and roll group, the Dovells; and Charles J. Gill, a professional actor and award-winning director.

To start the show, sixth grader Danielle Leigh Rosenthal took center stage singing “On My Own” from Les Miserables.  The judges agreed that Rosenthal was a “beautiful singer” who truly sang her heart out.  Caryn Murtha and Kendra Lemauro of Kingston Elementary School sang a duet to “For Good” from Broadway musical Wicked dedicated to a substitute teacher and close friend.  While the judges had been critical of how the two performers’ voices complimented each during rehearsals, all agreed that the singers ultimately nailed it.  Next, Bret Harte fifth grader Nick Kepron wowed the audience as he jammed out on the drums with his mother playing piano in the background to what he called “Drum Nation.” 

Force Modern Dance Company of South Jersey were up next.  Jesica Balmes, Alisyn Berenato, Natalie Gibson and Laura Williams performed a modern dance to Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida.”  Following the unique dancers was West alumnus and Johnson teacher Donna Friedman, singing a classy rendition of “I Am What I Am” by Gloria Gaynor.  When asked who she was by Gagliardi, Friedman responded, “I represent anyone with a challenge in life.”  The judges thought the performance was “absolutely delightful.”

Kevin Chen, a fifth grader at Cooper Elementary, next revealed his talent as a pianist since age five.  Following the child prodigy was singer and actor Brett Speesler singing “This is the Moment” from Jeckyll and Hyde after a solo show he recently starred in.  While some of the judges thought standing in one spot would have made the performance more effective, Nanni called the act “powerful.”  Matt Elliot, a former Dancing with the Cherry Hill Stars participant, and dance partner, NBC 10 meteorologist Michelle Grossman, joined the show with a partner dance to Michael Buble’s “Everything.” 

Next, Rosa eighth grader Sarah Furnari impressed the audience with a powerful rendition of “Astonishing” from Little Women.  Judge Nanni felt so impressed that she called Furnari “Broadway ready,” complimenting her energy progression.  Closing the first act, Happy Feet Dance Studio’s 19-member dance group, directed by Marjie Major, called “Sparks,” entertained the crowd with an upbeat dance to “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger.

During the ten-minute intermission, guests enjoyed refreshments and had the opportunity to vote for their favorite performance from the first act by donating money into the various bags, titled with the name of each act.

Kicking off the second act was local actor, restaurant owner and Cherry Hill East graduate, Bill “Stink” Fisher, who sang “Stuck in a Moment” by U2, accompanied by his brother Michael, also an East grad, on guitar.  Beck eighth grader Max Hoffman continued the show as a he sang “Somewhere” from Westside Story.  After his performance, Hoffman said, “I just love being on stage” and the judges complimented his dramatic feel and vocal range.  Next, 16-year-old dancer Giana Postiglione danced to Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity,” executing technical attitude turns while displaying deep emotion. 

Sylvia Dembo, an astonishing 90-year-old, sang what she explained as a torch song called “Stormy Weather,” first sung by Ethel Waters in the 1930s.  According to Gagliardi, Dembo “brought down the house” and “won the hearts of the audience” as she received a standing ovation.  Before exiting the stage, Dembo quoted Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over!”

Following Dembo, second grader at Joseph D. Sharp Elementary School Edward Zhang startled the audience as he performed tricks with a wooden karate stick almost larger than himself.  While he carried a potentially harmful weapon, all judges agreed that “he certainly was not hurting [them].”  Jodi Lawrence O’Connor sang a wonderful version of  “Someone Else’s Story” from the musical Chess, with Carusi teachers, directors and performers Jodi Raditz and Denise Augustyn following, singing and dancing to two Chicago tunes.  The pair told Gagliardi their act’s claim to fame was the wigs and fish nets they sported. 

Finally, to close the show, Cherry Hill East singers Griffin Back, Ian Parker, Justin Singson and Cole Spencer, also on guitar, of Knee High Spunk played their original mash-up of songs ranging from Lady Gaga to R. Kelly to Spongebob Squarepants.  By the middle of the song, the group broke into a remix, picking up a faster beat.  The performance left the judges speechless.

After all the acts, audience members had around six minutes to cast any last votes for acts throughout the whole night.  While the money was added up and votes tallied, Cherry Hill’s Got Talent featured three dance numbers performed by the incredible Cherry Hill West Dance Team, directed by Shelby Smith, including a modern piece, jazz piece and the 2010 championship hip hop piece called “Nerds.”

To conclude the show Cherry Hill Education Foundation President Eleanor Stofman gave a brief speech thanking sponsors, supporters, audience members and several others.

Stofman soon announced that “Sparks” had raised the most money through donations of voters throughout the show.

“It feels so good that the audience really liked us,” said Lilah Schwartz, a member of “Sparks” and eighth grader at Haddonfield Middle School.

Next, as all the participants gathered on stage, a trophy was presented to Knee High Spunk as the overall winner of Cherry Hill’s Got Talent 2010.

“I’m speechless,” said Singson, amidst a celebratory group hug with the rest of the Knee High Spunk members.

Stofman said, “[The night] exceeded our expectations.  It was the diversity and range of the talents that made it a success.”

“This is the type of [event] that brings the Cherry Hill community together,” said Dennis Davidow, vice president of the Cherry Hill Education Foundation.