Published Fri, Aug 3, 2012 6:33 am Dateline
Updated Fri, Aug 3, 2012 9:40 am
This Saturday, Neil Diamond and Etta James will rub shoulders with Stevie Nicks, Garth Brooks and Ray Charles during A Night With the Legends, a popular annual fundraiser for Stuart's Opera House.
Now in its fifth year, the show features Athens and Nelsonville celebrities paying tribute to some of music's biggest stars.
Organized by Athens native and Stuart's Opera House board member Alex Couladis, the event started as a USO fundraiser at the Athens Elks Lodge before becoming one of Stuart's most popular shows and an important source of revenue for the non-profit theater.
"Alex's work on A Night with the Legends has had a huge impact on Stuart's Opera House, both as a very successful fundraising event, and by bringing in new audience members and supporters," said Brian Koscho, Stuart's marketing and promotions coordinator. "He works very hard to put together an amazing evening of entertainment and really steps it up each year."
Couladis, who will be channeling Roy Orbison and Dean Martin this weekend, is quick to point out that A Night With the Legends is an all-live show.
"It's not karaoke," he said. "We've got talented singers backed up by fantastic musicians."
It's been a fun experience for Colleen Carow, who is taking a quick break from her band Broken Ring to become Shania Twain and Michelle Phillips for a night.
"It's really different from what I do as a singer-songwriter," she said. "Everyone has been so welcoming and supportive. I feel like I have a bunch of new friends."
Other area crooners include JoAnn Wolfe (Ann Wilson of Heart), Sharell Andrews Arocho (Etta James and Whitney Houston), Andy Stone and Bill L'Heureux (The Blues Brothers), Chad Ferguson (John Denver) and J.W. Smith (Ray Charles).
While some singers, such as Arocho and Smith, are regular local performers, one of Saturday's stars was plucked from obscurity just weeks ago.
"I heard Jared Griggs doing karaoke at the Maplewood one night and he was great. Now we've got him doing Jon Bon Jovi," chuckled Couladis.
The Night with the Legends House Band is a who's-who of local talent, featuring Bill Rawlins, Jeff Redefer, Tom Daniels, Lynn Sullivan, Molly Prudenti and Adam Graham, joined by a full horn section and backup singers Tanyah Stone and Michael Weiser.
In addition to funds raised through ticket sales, audience members will be able to vote with their dollars for their favorite performer, with the money being partly matched by each performer's sponsor. Baskets will be available for voting throughout the evening.
When asked how this year's show is shaping up, Couladis couldn't hold back his enthusiasm.
"It's amazing," he said. "I keep telling people, 'Trust me...I was at rehearsal last night! It's really good!'"
Visit www.stuartsoperahouse.org for tickets and information.
Slideshow: "A Night With the Legends" Rehearsal
Setting up in the Stuart's Opera House control booth
Alex Couladis pays tribute to Dean Martin
The Night With the Legends House Band backs up Alex Couladis
Andy Stone, Bill L'Heureux and J.W. Smith shake a tail feather during their Blues Brothers act
Kay Carter prepares her Stevie Nicks number
Sharell Arocho and band put the finishing touches on an Etta James classic
Colleen Carow, JoAann Wolfe, Michael Weiser and Alex Couladis fine-tune their Mamas and The Papas routine