After the final note of his song – as cheers and applause echoed through the Palm Springs Cultural Center – Shay’s Warriors founder Shay Moraga confessed to the audience that she had not sung on stage since freshman year. She said she decided to participate in “Singing with the Stars of the Desert” because she wanted to support Desert Ensemble Theater (DET) education program while overcoming her fear of singing in public.

At a benefit performance on October 7, Moraga and five other talented singers (referred to as “star contestants”) were joined by six popular local professionals who served as coaches: Jeff Barnett work with Jeffrey NormanVice President of Communications and Public Affairs for the McCallum Theater; Darci Daniels coached Charles Hoffmember responsible for The center; patrick evans coached a retired dentist Joe Zakowski; Charles Herrera work with Winston Giesekeeditor of philanthropy and special features of the Desert Sun; Lizzie Schmelling guided actress and singer Christine Tringali Nunes; and Leslie Tinnaro coached Moraga.

The contestants and coaches each had a moment in the spotlight with songs ranging from Broadway classics (“I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” and “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha”) to pop standards (“Wichita Lineman” and “The Summer Wind”). After the final performance, audience members voted to support their favorite contestant.

Fans and guests gather at the Palm Springs Cultural Center for

Once the vote is complete, the artistic director of the DET Jerome Elliott Moskowitz announced that the winner – by one vote – was Nunes for his comedic performance of “You Make Me Feel So Young”. Nunes reacted in shock – which was followed by a big smile – when she received a trophy and a belt. Each of the star contestants received two subscriptions for the 2022-2023 Desert Ensemble Theater season.

Conceived by Danny Kopelsonthe benefit was produced by Kopelson, Moskowitz and the DET Executive Director Shawn Abramowitz under the musical direction of Constance Gordi. The evening included pre- and post-show receptions hosted by Eight4Nine.

DET education programs include an internship in which local high school students gain hands-on, hands-on experience in technical theater. In its first 11 seasons, DET provided $21,000 in scholarships to 40 high school seniors. Theater managers note that several former interns are now working with DET as paid designers, directors and production staff. Others are employed elsewhere in the industry.

After performing, each star contestant shared how music has been a part of their lives. They reminded the audience that a love of the arts, nurtured from an early age, can become a lifelong passion.

Describing herself as a “cancer thriver,” Moraga tearfully told the audience that her experience with “Singing with the Desert Stars” had been “pure joy.”

Star contestant Shay Moraga speaks out

Her song from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” reflected the aspirations of students who benefit from DET’s education program and people of all ages who enjoy music and drama. Whether they’re performing on stage, working on shows backstage, or cheering on the audience, they all want to be “a part of this world.”

Learn more at desertensembletheatre.org.

Barbara Kerr is a freelance communications specialist with a passion for writing about people, the arts, and special events. Inducted into the Dayton (Ohio) Area Broadcasters Hall of Fame, she is a past president of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) College of Fellows.

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