The 20-member group The Downtowners is currently performing for the third year in a row at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival in downtown Orlando. And, as always, this group of Orlando Lutheran Towers residents who range in age from 72 to 98 are performing an eclectic list of songs that range from the old Louis Armstrong favorite “What a Wonderful World” to recent hits like Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
There are even a few dance numbers thrown into the mix, said Jeanne Asher, a founding member of the group.
Asher, who has lived at The Fountains at Orlando Lutheran Towers for more than seven years, explained the genesis of the group. “About four or so years ago, there was a documentary showing at the Enzian Theatre called “Young At Heart.” It depicted a group of seniors in Massachusetts who got themselves a music director and started singing popular songs. They got so popular they even performed abroad.”
Asher said residents who saw the film were so energized by the subject matter that, as soon as they got onto the bus to head home, they told their Activities Director they wanted to start a similar group. Asher chuckled as she remembered the director responding that she had sat through the entire movie knowing she was going to have to respond to such a request.
After getting the Towers administration to agree to the project, the first task they faced was to hire a music director, Asher said. They found him in the person of Tim Hanes, the organist and music director at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Longwood. Once he was on board, they were off and running because most of the residents who had seen the movie were raring to be part of such a group.
Asher readily admits to having more enthusiasm than she does singing talent.
“I really don’t sing that well, but I always wanted to be a singer. Not everyone has to be a great singer. We have some really good singers in our group but I just am not one of them. Being part of a group you are able to blend in,” she confided. “I sing alto.”
The Downtowners will be performing seven, one-hour shows at The Fringe, and they will include a line dance that they have dubbed “The Cougar Line” as part of the show.
“We just have a lot of fun doing it and, frankly, they love us. Our oldest member is 98,” Asher said.
The first year they performed, one of their members tripped and fell at the end of the show and broke her shoulder. But, she was back the next year and this year is part of the Cougar Line. Asher is matter-of-fact in noting that the group has to continually keep working to replenish its ranks.
“It’s just a fact of life at our age. We are always promoting the group to new residents because we have had a couple members who died and one recently quit due to Parkinson’s,” she said. “But everyone in the group is very committed to it. We practice every Monday at 10 a.m. One of our singers is a retired priest and he’s blind but he knows all the music and is one of our rocks.”
Rock music is an integral part of their performance. The song-list includes Born This Way, Staying Alive, and an Americanized version of Gangnam Style.
In addition to The Fringe, they have performed for women’s clubs, garden clubs, churches, and Hospice of the Comforter. All funds earned from their performances are donated to the Orlando Lutheran Towers Foundation that provides for residents who need financial assistance.