TRAVERSE CITY — Community laughter, community boost.
The 68th annual Rotary Show kicks off tonight, a feast of variety entertainment and humor that directly benefits the region.
The four-show run through Saturday at the Lars Hockstad Auditorium should raise around $50,000 for the Rotary Good Works Fund. The theme of this year's show is "We Are the World," a fitting summary of the show's (and Rotarian) mind-set of giving back.
"The Rotary Club's motto is 'Service Above Self,'" said show coordinator Nick Edson, in charge of the more than 100 Rotarians who volunteer for the show in one form or another. "Everybody really comes together and does their part."
Grants from the Good Works Fund go to a variety of community causes and organizations. Beneficiaries of the dozen grants for December 2009 included North Star Soccer, the Vasa "We Ski" program, Michigan Land Use Institute's Farm to School program, the Great Lakes Children's Museum's Funday Sundays and Catholic Human Services' Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program.
"That's one of the things about this Rotary Show: you know if you volunteer you're raising money for the Good Works committee and you know that's going back into the community," Edson said.
For the second year, the Rotary Show is a combined effort of the Sunrise, Noon and Twilight clubs based in Traverse City. The Noon club launched the tradition in 1942 with a vaudevillian flavor, providing some humor and entertainment as World War II raged on.
In today's tough economy, an evening of laughter is still a welcome distraction.
"It's meant to be a gift to the community," said Randy Kamps, who with Phil Murphy is co-producer of the show.
An institution after so many decades, this year's PG, family-friendly event will again feature favorite bits: song medleys — some with a twist — by the 55-member Rotary Chorus, Mother Fred and Final News. Woven in and around these numbers are bits developed and refined by Kamps, Murphy and a team of show participants.
While the two producers mull, sift and sort ideas for months, in January the creative team begins meeting every Saturday morning to work out the lineup. While many ideas never make it out of the room, the final lineup celebrates or (more often) parodies current events, the culture or life in general.
"The one piece we write at the very, very bitter end is the Final News, because it has to be current," said Kamps, teaming with Murphy for the third year.
"It's all coming together, it's like herding cats, that's what it is," he said.
On a parallel creative track, Al Bonney and Dave Milross co-direct a team that formulates the Rotary Show's music lineup. The three-set roster ranges from more recent hits, such as "Chicken Fried," to classics such as "Hey Jude," "59th Street Bridge" and "Thank God I'm a Country Boy." The 55-member chorus features Rotarians as well as guest singers, usually friends and family of club members.
"We start picking the music in July, make a long list and winnow it down to a short list," Bonney said. "We don't write any of them, they're all pop music."