SANTAN SUN NEWS STAFF
When the Valley Youth Theater airs its VYTal Affair-athon fundraiser on August 21, Chandler residents might recognize a familiar face on the VYT stage.
Jessica Wastchak has been singing and dancing across the valley since the age of 5, most recently performing the lead role of Katherine Blake in Hamilton High School’s production of “Freaky Friday.”
She will give one last performance before leaving Chandler to begin her freshman year at New York University.
And it is normal that his last act benefits VYT.
“VYT has been a constant during this crazy COVID time,” said Wastchak, who has starred in six VYT productions and is part of VYTeens, the theater company’s teen performance choir. “I’m grateful for everything they’ve given me over the past few years and want to help in any way I can.”
She’s not the only one feeling this. Indeed, performers and alumni of productions from the past three decades jumped at the chance to participate in the fundraiser.
The eight-hour, Jerry Lewis-style telethon will feature live and taped interviews and performances from nearly 100 current “VYTkids” cast members and alumni – including stage and screen stars like Broadway’s Nick Cartell, who recently completed a two-and-one-semester run as Jean Valjean in the national tour of Les Miserables.
“This event is an opportunity to showcase Phoenix’s incredible talent to people around the world,” said Bobb Cooper, VYT’s longtime creative director. “The cast for this fundraiser includes performers as young as 9, seasoned professionals who were in our shows 30 years ago and everyone in between. It will be a day of incredible performances.
The fundraiser will be streamed live from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on vyt.com and facebook.com/valleyyouththeatre. Facebook viewers can log in and out at any time of the day.
Wastchak will perform “What Baking Can Do” from the beloved musical “Waitress.” She’s definitely one to watch: At just 18, she’s already won several National Youth Arts Awards for her performances and hopes to succeed on Broadway.
The opportunity to perform in VYTal Affair-athon is particularly enjoyable for Wastchak given the challenges of the past year.
“I went from extremely busy to having nothing on my schedule in less than a week once the pandemic hit,” she said. “It was a major life change, but there was a silver lining as I headed into the college audition process.
“There was nothing stopping me from just focusing on training and I ended up being accepted into my dream school, NYU, to study musical theatre. I’m so excited to perform in VYTal one last time before I to leave.
The virtual event replaces the 27th annual VYTal Affair, the theater’s largest annual fundraiser. This is the second year that the COVID-19 crisis prompted VYT to organize the event online.
Said Cooper, “We are truly grateful for the outpouring of support we have received over the past 18 months. It touched our hearts and reaffirmed our commitment to inspiring young people to be their best – on stage and, more importantly, in life.
Most of the performances were pre-recorded in July.
In addition to vocal performances, the event will include live Zoom interviews with alumni, multi-track acts, and a few surprise guests.
A fundraising highlight is the 21-year-old reunion of the cast of West Side Story, who performed at VYT in 2000.
Five former performers from the original production – Nick Cartell, Katie “Rex” Casey, Chris Ciccarelli, Sharie “Combs” Nievar and Ian Sidden – will reunite for a virtual performance of the mighty “Tonight Quintet”.
Each hour of the telethon will be hosted by a local celebrity, including Yetta Gibson, Gina Salazar Hook, John Hook, Brad Perry and Carey Peña.
The fundraiser will also include a silent auction featuring travel, entertainment, skincare, spa, hotel, food and drink and dozens of other packages.
“This fundraiser will launch the next phase of Valley Youth Theater,” Cooper said.
Indeed, the theater has just announced its return to live performances. VYT goes stage “Spookley the Square Pumpkin, The Musical” from October 1 to 31. The 25th annual production of “A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Junie B. Jones, The Musical” and “High School Musical” completes the season.
High-profile artists who debuted at VYT include Emma Stone, Jordin Sparks, Kimiko Glenn, Chelsea Kane, Max Crumm, Matt Dallas, Columbus Short, Nick Cartell, and Sam Primack.