This song’s for Mom

Participants in "To Mother with Love" include Vanessa Becker, Amy Waddell, Wes Nelson, sisters Mary Joy Nelson and Vanessa Davis, Pamela Perlaman and Manuel Castillo. Several of them are holding pictures of their mothers. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

Soon after Vanessa Becker’s son Jackson was born, she was holding him and her 4-year-old daughter, Emma, came in the room, saw the baby and started singing, “You are my sunshine.”

On Sunday, Becker and her kids, now 15 and 11, will reprise their family tune at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar in To Mother With Love, a Mother’s Day cabaret performance featuring numerous Lexington-area singers and actors.

“I’m excited this is the way I’m spending Mother’s Day with my children,” says Becker, director of education for Kentucky Conservatory Theatre.

She’s spending it that way thanks to Mary Joy Nelson, program director at the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s Academy for Creative Excellence.

“A lot of different things came together,” Nelson explained Wednesday.

She was involved with a group called Search.Love.Rescue., a not-for-profit organization that supports an orphanage in Cali, Colombia.

“I did a trip to Colombia three summers ago and got to see the culture and how people lived and fell in love with the kids there,” Nelson says. “We’d always talked about doing some sort of musical event. Then, I was talking to people about what there is to do for Broadway in town and cabaret opportunities. So we said, what would be a good time to have a cabaret when people would enjoy coming out to hear some Broadway songs and see a show?

“There are so many talented musical theater performers in Lexington, and you might see them in Grand Night for Singing or a production, but I felt like you don’t hear that enough and you don’t hear these singers enough.”

People who come out to the two performances  at 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday at Natasha’s will hear plenty of them in a program that will combine sentimental favorites like the Beckers’ You Are My Sunshine; familial tunes like a rendition of Sisters by Nelson and her real-life sibling Vanessa Davis; and some pop favorites and Broadway classics like Pamela Perlman singing Everything’s Coming Up Roses, one of Mama Rose’s classics from Gypsy.

“That’s one of the thrills with cabaret is you get to do songs you’ve always wanted to do and that you might not get to do anywhere else,” Perlman says. “Mama Rose is a role I would love to play someday, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get that opportunity. And then I get to do Children Will Listen, which is a song I dearly love, but I would never get to sing in the show (Into the Woods) in the way I am getting to sing it in this program.”

For Wes Nelson, it was a chance to let his mother see him sing. The general manager of Kentucky Conservatory Theatre and Summerfest, Nelson (no relation to Mary Joy) has been more of a behind-the-scenes presence the past few years directing shows such as Summerfest’s production of The Rocky Horror Show last summer.

“Any time I call mom and say I have a show coming up, she’ll say, ‘Are you in it?’ and when I say, ‘No, I’m directing,’ she says, ‘Oh,’” Nelson says.

It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate the work her son puts into creating a whole production. But there is the special thrill of seeing your child on stage, which Nelson’s mom will get Sunday as he and his friend Jenny Fitzpatrick perform The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing from White Christmas.

For Manuel Castillo, a graduate student in UK’s voice program, getting a group together to sing on Mother’s Day takes him back to his native Guadalajara, Mexico, where he says on Mother’s Day there, “we will get in a car and drive around and sing to all the mothers.”

He says being part of Sunday’s program will be a way to pay tribute to “all my American mothers,” whom he has gotten to know as he pursued a doctorate at UK.

All the while they’ll be benefitting Search.Love.Rescue., which will be represented by Amy Waddell, the group’s treasurer. She will be the show’s emcee – no, she isn’t working up a rendition of Wilkommen for the occasion.

Waddell says the group has had some benefit dinners before and other fund-raisers, but “we haven’t had a musical event before.”

“We need to do this more,” Nelson says. “My hope is that if this goes well, we may do more cabaret and make it like ‘cabaret for a cause’ and find a way to benefit others through the artistic gifts of so many great artists in this city.”

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