By Dedra Cordle
Tom Cash – and his phone – have been quite busy as of late.
Over the course of two years, hundreds of people across the county have called the resident of Grove City to pepper him with a series of questions. While some on the line were outliers who wanted to know whether he had any interest in selling his home, a majority of the individuals were just reaching out to see if he had any information on the popular in-house acting group at the E.L. Evans Senior Center.
“It has been a constant stream of calls,” he said. “Everybody wanted to know about The Showstoppers, and if we were coming back, and whether I believed they would ever be able to perform for the public again.”
As the lead director and an occasional cast member and writer of the productions they perform, he said he always wanted to be of more help to those who called but he often had no real answers to give.
“With all the uncertainty that was going on in the world at that time, I had no clue what was going on with anything and I hated having to tell them that,” said Cash. “Trust me, I know how much this group and what they represent mean to the performers, their families, and the community as a whole and I absolutely hated that I wasn’t able to assure them that we would be coming back.”
For close to two decades, The Showstoppers have been delighting the masses with their annual performances in the spring and fall – the latter production mostly mining holiday content that is both comedic and spiritual. With a strong track record of pleasing the crowd, some come from away places to catch a performance. Rarely is there an empty seat in the house.
Since their last production in December of 2019, however, the stage where the actors rehearse and perform and those seats in the auditorium where the crowd sat in delighted awe have remained empty due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In early 2020, the center was closed by order of the state to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. At the time, officials believed public spaces, especially those for seniors, could be safely re-opened within a few months but that turned out to not be the case.
“For more than a year, this center and its activities were closed to our seniors,” he said. “And the biggest crime with Covid is that it robbed them of the place where they went for recreation, for connection, and for fellowship.
“Every day this center was opened, they had that and then it was gone. And then most of them were alone at home talking to the cat or having to talk to their families through the window because they could get really sick if they caught Covid.”
With so much going on, Cash said he was never surprised when cast members, their families, or ardent fans would reach out to talk about The Showstoppers or reminisce about favorite past productions.
“The Showstoppers are a vital piece of the community because they represent so many things,” he said. “This (these productions) is about giving opportunity to people, it’s about making people feel good about themselves, it’s about investing in people and allowing them to be a part of a team because, frankly, seniors do not often get to be involved in those things, they do not often get to do those things, and they do not often get to see themselves in these things.”
Cash said it came to a point where he did not even want to pick up his phone because he was always the bearer of bad news. But then one day he did answer a call from the center’s administrative team who gave him the greenlight to host a new production.
“I was so happy to – finally – be able to tell people that it was back,” he said with a big laugh. “Now my phone is ringing off the hook with people asking questions about when it is taking place and what the play is about, and if I’m sure it is going to go on.”
Cash gave reassurance that the show definitely would go on – and quite soon at that.
From Nov. 29 through Dec. 1, The Showstoppers will present an original play called “For Goodness Sake.” Written by Cash, the production will transport the audience to Santa’s Workshop in the North Pole where the reindeers are fighting, the elves are scheming, and the jolly old man is quickly running out of patience.
Although comedic in nature, the play also has a spiritual element which revolves around a temperamental young child named Billy who finds himself sitting atop the naughty list in The Good Book. When the scheming elves pay him a little visit a la Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” he begins to discover the true meaning of the holiday and atone for his past behavior.
“At its heart, this play is a celebration of the Christmas spirit,” said Cash. “It celebrates the love that Santa Claus was born of, of the giving and the sharing, and for the children, the getting, but we all grow up in that regard. And this play is also about what Christmas represents, and that is the great gift of forgiveness and the fact that anybody can turn it around.
“Let’s face it, anybody can be bad – we all have our moments – but if you understand that all you have to do is give your trust to Jesus, then he will give you that gift of forgiveness.”
Cash said while he didn’t want to “get too heavy” with the religious overtones in the play, he did want to feature aspects of it as the productions coincide so closely with the holiday season.
“It still has plenty of jokes and gags about reindeer farts, but it has that comforting piece with a redemptive arc that I think some people still need to see – especially with everything that has been going on in the world lately.”
Cash said he is so excited for the public to see this play, but even more so for the dedicated members of the acting group who have been waiting so long for another chance to perform for the masses.
“We have had a lot of ups and downs since we began our rehearsals this summer and we have had to face down a lot of challenges recently as some of our cast fell ill,” he said. “So we don’t exactly know what it is going to look like opening night, but I do know that all of our cast is dedicated to this play, to their performance, and to putting on a great show for the public.”
Among those who will be seated in the audience for the first time is Jean Slussar, a long-time member of The Showstoppers Acting Group. Since its inception, Slussar has performed in almost every production but “For Goodness Sake” will mark her last appearance in one of their plays.
“It is my swan song,” she said.
Health issues have prevented the actress from taking on a more demanding role this year, but she will still be able to get in a few planned lines during scene change-overs – most of which come at the expense of the director.
She said every barbed quip is all in good fun.
“I think he did a wonderful job with the script,” she said. “It’s very funny, very good, and I am pleased that I was able to work with him and spend time with him.
“It is not often that someone will give those my age an opportunity to do something fun and different, but he wants everyone to have a time to shine, to be a star.”
She said she is excited to see her friends be those stars, and for the audience to fall in love with them again and with the story they are telling.
“I think we can all relate to being the little bad boy,” she said. “I, myself, probably could have been better. But we can all work to be better, and I think that’s why this play will resonate so much with the audience when they get to see it.”
Performances for “For Goodness Sake” will be held at 1 p.m. on Nov. 29; at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Nov. 30; and at 1 p.m. on Dec. 1 at the E.L. Evans Senior Center, 4430 Dudley Ave. in Grove City. Admission is free but monetary donations and canned goods for the local food pantry are welcome. The audience can drop-in at the time of the scheduled performance but large groups are encouraged to call the center at 614-277-1060 in advance.