Senior ensembles in Arundel prefer the stage to old age

Several amateur troupes from over-60 crowd like to entertain audiences

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July 16, 2004|By Kayleigh Kulp | Kayleigh Kulp,SUN STAFF

Their performance is like a Broadway variety show, say members of the Pascal Go-Getters senior ensemble.

The acclaimed local group - now celebrating its 25th year - includes singers, dancers, storytellers and harmonica, drum, piano, guitar, spoon and tub players. The 20-some members pack the Pascal Senior Center's professional theater twice a week from September to February.

They are among several local amateur troupes who are stepping out of senior centers to perform for the public - and having the time of their lives.

Some sing, some play instruments, some dance. All are united by a love of performance and rewarded by the warm receptions they receive.

June Booker, 73, who sings bass for the Little Ol' Ladies from Pasadena, a women's barbershop chorus from Pasadena Senior Center, recalls singing at a local restaurant table after lunch one day.

After harmonizing on a couple of their favorite pieces, such as "San Francisco Blues," the group was approached by two young boys, around the ages of 4 and 6.

"He was a young one, big eyes, thumb in his mouth," she says of the youngest boy. "He said to us, in a soft voice, `We wanted to tell you that you sounded really good.'" Booker was so elated by the compliment she asked him, "Can I hug you?"

These amateur groups come together for a variety of reasons.

Linda Grant de Pauw, 64, a retired university professor, began the Little Ol' Ladies after singing in competitive ladies barbershop choruses such as Sweet Adelines and Harmony Inc. She also has performed with the Pascal Go-Getters.

She had an open call for performers. Other seniors, such as Betty Jordan, 68, lead singer, and Booker, another Go-Getter, came to her with an interest in joining. Mary Ann Whay, 72, a baritone, joined the group when she saw an ad in a local paper.

Now the four make up a "teaching quartet," instructing others who want to learn or participate in the group. Five women usually perform at a time.

The Little Ol' Ladies sing at charity events for the Salvation Army, churches, restaurants, business meetings, christenings and at senior centers. Sometimes they incorporate solos, duets, trios and even comedy acts.

The ladies wear either a black shirt and black pants or a skirt with a flower when they perform, but they make their own shawls and other accessories for performances based on the season. For summer they wear a rainbow shawl with a yellow flower.

Jordan says it's the closeness and sisterhood that keeps her involved. "We enjoy singing together," she says.

And despite minor mistakes because of nerves, Booker says, "we've been treated very well and welcomed with open arms. And people forgive because we're old." De Paul adds, laughing, "And they think we're cute."

Go-Getters member Gus Buchheit, who moved to Maryland from Florida, recalls meeting Joe Birely, then putting together a variety show group at the Pascal Senior Center.

Although Buchheit told Birely he was no actor, he helped Birely set up microphones and amplifiers for the shows. After that, said Buchheit, "Joe was so tickled he asked me to stay."

At age 92, Buchheit still is the key technical expert for the Go-Getters.

The troupe, made up of 10 men and 12 women, produces two theme shows a year. It performs twice a week.

Members rehearse for two hours every Tuesday for five weeks before a season starts. Floretta Keeney, 70, says the hardest part is finding the music and picking a theme. This September's theme is "From Sea to Shining Sea," a musical tour of states across the country.

The shows are choreographed by Keeney. She joined nearly five years ago after visiting the center with a friend who was in the group. Keeney, a choreographer for more than 45 years, started a tap dance class at the center and formed a group of nine dancers called the Go-Tappers, which sometimes opens for the Go-Getters if space permits.

Adding to Keeney's busy schedule, she instructs a group of 17 men and women in a tap group called Taste of Tap at Arnold Senior Center. They perform at church luncheons and other local programs and are booked to dance at Le Fountainbleau's Christmas show.

"They are dedicated and are practicing on their own during the summer," Keeney says. The only requirement to join, she says, is "you just have to be old!"

Buchheit likes the camaraderie of the Go-Getters. Keeney said she gets the most fulfillment from "teaching it and seeing it come out right. ... The applause is the reward."

Will Johnson, 69, a storyteller and technical crew member of the Go-Getters, recalls one memorable experience in a nursing home after a show. "One lady grabbed my hand and squeezed it really hard, and said, `You really made my day,'" he says.

Information on the Pascal Go-Getters, Taste of Tap and the Go-Tappers, and a show schedule are available by calling the Pascal Senior Center at 410-222-6680.

The Little Ol' Ladies from Pasadena perform at 1 p.m. Monday at the Arnold Senior Center. Women interested in becoming a Little Ol' Lady or for more information, contact Linda de Pauw at depauw@magicalgodmother.com.

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