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Phyllis Madonna passes the touch…and the love lives on

SLO-bispans talk about this show all year long. I mean, who can ever forget Katcho Achadjian doing The Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elivra,”” or Dave Romeo and Christine Mulholland singing Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” or Pam Copeland flying onto the stage as Mary Poppins? Where else can we go to see respected politicians, city and county officials, and otherwise dignified locals donning wigs and sequins and unleashing their hidden talents onto the red carpet every year? Longtime attendees would not miss it; first-time show goers will never miss another.

This year marks the 32nd year of the Fashion Show & Musical Revue launched by Phyllis Madonna in 1987 to support the vital services provided by the Women’s Shelter Program. And while 32 would not usually be celebrated as a landmark year, this year is the first year that the torch has been passed from the original movers and shakers (Phyllis Madonna, Cheri Humphrey, and Connie Pearce plus a host of volunteers) to a brand new nonprofit started just for this purpose.

Executive Director, Toni Detz, explains: “Since the Women’s Shelter Program, now called Stand Strong, is focused on serving the needs of victims of domestic violence, it was impossible for them to produce an event of this magnitude,” she said. “So when it was time for Phyllis to step down and let someone else do the heavy lifting, we (former board member Toni Detz, plus producers Stephen Patrick, and Todd LeMay) formed a nonprofit called Share The Love Foundation and expanded the recipients of the proceeds from the show to include Woods Humane Society and Jack’s Helping Hand, as well as Stand Strong.”

Last year, a record $240,000 was raised, a number the show’s organizers plan to exceed this year. It’s hoped that the addition of two more recipients will expand the show’s popularity and its fundraising ability. Wanting to ensure that younger people get involved, that the show stays vital and relevant, the new foundation hired local firm, Big Red Marketing, to help promote and rebrand the show while honoring its legacy and founder.

Always entertaining, and always relevant, the show is famous for taking the year’s most popular trends in music and movies and bringing them to life on the local stage. Picture, if you will, prominent business owners, city council members, county supervisors, current and former mayors, police and fire chiefs, TV news anchors, and college presidents recreating famous scenes from Footloose, Titanic, West Side Story, Dirty Dancing, The Blues Brothers, and Mama Mia–to name just a few.

Participants volunteer their time, which is considerable, for rehearsals, fittings, and performances. The show’s organizers agree that the generosity of the participants, both on stage and behind it, is the heart and soul of the event. Clothes for the runway are provided by Madonna Inn’s famous boutique, run for the past thirty plus years by Cheri Humphrey. Designers for this year’s show include longtime leather designer Kippy’s (since 1948), Kalibre jewelry, Eileen Fisher, Luchiano Visconti, and Joseph Ribkoff, among others. The clothes are, of course, available for sale.

Humphrey has been the show’s right arm since the beginning and she loves choosing the unique, wearable, stylish and often one-of-a-kind pieces worn by the show’s stars. Recognizing the enormous healing power of music and laughter, the show has always had plenty of both but has grown to also include bigger and better prizes and acts. Last year, a brand new car was donated, and one year, a live cow was part of the show. Toni Detz and Cheri Humphrey have made it a goal to fill every seat, every show in the years to come.

Now well into its third decade, the show is like coming home for the many people who appear in it and work behind the scenes. Many of the Madonna grandchildren have grown up in the show.

“I’ve heard from cast and crew many times that the show has changed their lives,” said executive producer, Todd LeMay. “So many lifetime relationships are made here.”

And for the many women and children served by Stand Strong, it is no exaggeration to say that the money raised by this enduring annual event has changed, and in some cases saved, their lives.

“Our work involves providing comprehensive, multicultural, and holistic services for adults and children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” says the Stand Strong website. “ … A Safe House offers safety, support, and referrals plus legal help, advocacy, and counseling. To access the Safe House, start by calling our crisis line at 805-781-6400.”

Woods Humane Society has been serving adoptable cats and dogs and the public since 1955. Woods now cares for more than 3,000 cats and dogs each year at their two facilities in San Luis Obispo and Atascadero. Jack’s Helping Hand is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide community programs that meet the unique challenges of children with cancer or special needs under the age of 21.

There’s no telling who will be showing up on the red carpet this year. Maybe we’ll see Alexander Hamilton strutting the stage, or Spiderman crawling the walls. Maybe we’ll hear Lady Gaga’s newest hit, or watch Beyonce’s latest moves. Though the torch has been passed, Phyllis Madonna will take her favorite place at the end of the runway and do what she does best: cheering on the cast and crew to give their best work ever. The food is delicious, the talent is superb, the company is stellar, and the causes are worthy. Music and laughter are guaranteed.

You have four chances to attend: two shows on Friday, March 1, 2019. And two more on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Lunch shows begin at 10:30 a.m. and start at $80. Dinner shows begin at 5:30 and start at $115. The event is held at the Madonna Inn Expo Center. Tickets can be purchased by emailing info@stlfoundation.com or by calling 805-242-2034.



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