The 38th Annual Viviano Variety Benefit Show held its farewell performance in November. For nearly four decades, the holiday production has benefited local charitable organizations, including The Don Bosco Centers, Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, Hurtado Scholars Program, and most often our own.
“Catholic Charities has overwhelmingly been the organization of choice. 90 cents of every dollar from a direct donation goes straight into Catholic Charities’ 30+ programs, so a donation directly benefits a person in need. Catholic Charities is also amazing because it serves people of all faiths. I don’t know about you, but that is the true meaning of living out the gospel to me.”
– Jerry Viviano, Viviano Variety Benefit Show Founder and Chairman
The final performance, this year, raised over $100,000 for Catholic Charities. In all its years, the annual event raised a total of $2.4 million. “It’s been a blessing to not only entertain the community, but to increase awareness and support for local charities,” said Jerry.
Coming from a family of singers and performers, Jerry held annual Christmas parties in a duplex home for friends, family, and his then-pastor, Father Tony Lickteig. Jerry and his four brothers grew up watching The Dean Martin Variety Show, so singing and dancing was always part of their gatherings.
“Every year I held a Christmas party where meatballs and wine were served. I am known for breaking out into a number, so music and dancing also became a regular part of our events,” said Jerry.
After participating in a silent spiritual retreat at the White House Jesuit Retreat Center in St. Louis, MO, and speaking with his pastor, Jerry realized he was on to something with his annual holiday soirées. After a few years performing at home, Jerry moved his event to a bigger stage, his home parish, Holy Cross, where the event was later coined “The Viviano Variety Benefit Show.” Proceeds from tickets purchased were then donated to local charitable organizations.
“The variety show continued to grow bigger each year, so we needed a new venue to accommodate more people,” said Jerry. After one year at Holy Cross, the show moved on to be held at the Kansas National Guard Armory for two years and the Jack Reardon Convention Center for three years, ultimately finding its home at Rockhurst High School’s Rose theater in 1991.
The variety show became an annual holiday tradition for families in the Kansas City area. In addition to variety entertainment, the show provided hors d’oeuvres, beverages, and a chance for guests to mingle.
One of the greatest accomplishments over the years Jerry states is “the many emails, phone calls, and letters that [he] received from patrons, saying that as a result of being at this event they decided to reach out and help others in Jesus’ name.”
After much prayerful deliberation, it was decided that this year’s 38th performance would be the last for the beloved variety show. Over the years, Jerry and his family have created unique memories that will last the Viviano family–and others–a lifetime. A few to name include: a duet from the musical “Annie,” between Jerry and his daughter Katherine; a dedication song to his late mother with his three brothers, Joe, Tony, and Frank; and a visit from Liz Kelly, a member of The Dean Martin Variety Show’s very own Golddiggers singing and dancing ensemble.
“We’ve had a great run,” added Jerry.