Jerry Klipp, 97, inched his red walker up to the microphone set up in Casa de Manana’s lower lounge and began singing a 1931 country hit by Bud and Joe Billings. Like a third of the La Jolla retirement community’s residents, Klipp was alive when it was released.
Through a garden filled with roses,
Down the sunset trail we'll stray.
When your hair has turned to silver,
I will love you as today.
Klipp — a former mechanical engineer whose mother sang the song to him as a boy — performed it from memory while staring at his 89-year-old wife, Iris, a former Del Mar Times reporter seated in the front row.
The third annual Casa de Manana talent show was nothing of great importance to the outside world. But to the 90 Casa residents and guests who gathered on Thursday, April 18, it meant everything. It was the their big chance — and possibly their last — to show off who they used to be (or who they used to aspire to be) before becoming residents of a retirement community. Many prepped months for their five minutes on stage.
“Did you hear my play?” Iris Klipp asked the Light. “I’m a playwright!”
Indeed, her reading of “For Women Only and the Men Who Put Up With Them,” which kicked off the show, was a Casa smash. It earned three or four laughter explosions — the largest when Iris’ character was asked for more test urine by a cruel nurse. (“I just went three times in 15 minutes!” the character protested. “Just let the water in the sink run!” the cruel nurse replied.)
The talent show was started three years ago by resident Malcolm Danoff, a former psychologist who became an actor in retirement.
“I run a small theater group here and we read scripts,” said Danoff, 86. “So I thought a talent show would be a good idea because I talked to various other residents and staff and kept hearing all about these talents they had that nobody knew about.” (Danoff has never performed himself, explaining that he has no desire to “get up there and just do a monologue.”)
This year’s hour-long show, which was produced by director of life enrichment Kelly Dodd, also featured belly-dancing courtesy of Casa de Manana life enrichment assistant Veronicah Cohen and her students Shlagh Moore, 83, Barbara Katz, 70, and Gillian Lancaster, 84. Resident and retired teacher Fred Robinson, 80 — who also doubled as the show’s emcee — busted out Louis Armstrong’s 1967 hit “What a Wonderful World” as though Satchmo himself were in the room. And Ron Landells, 91, and Alicia Haughney, 74 — both of whom are legally blind — danced as a band of their fellow Casa de Manana residents performed Patti Page’s 1950 hit “The Tennessee Waltz.”
But nothing prepared the unknowing members of the crowd for the barrage of concentrated talent emanating from the fingers of resident and retired Eastman School of Music piano professor Tom Schumaker, 87, whose masterful chops got him asked to perform the world premiere of David Diamond’s Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic in 1967.
“To get everyone together showcasing their various talents just makes us all more human to each other,” said Casa de Manana executive director Justin Weber. “And it's a moving thing to watch because when someone is singing a song with the whole of their heart that their mother sang to them, like Jerry Klipp did, it doesn't matter if they’re terrible or perfect. We all felt his sense of reminiscing about those songs and how much they meant to him.”
Weber said that residents are already asking to have another talent show this year.
“It brings us all closer together as a community,” he said.