20th anniversary of Star Quest

20th anniversary of Star Quest youth talent show will also feature some 'veterans'

By Jennifer Shaw

Posted:   04/10/2012 02:33:28 PM PDT | Updated:   about a year ago

Jim Nunes has long urged his young performers to reach for the stars, whatever their dreams may be.

And for 20 years, the retired Pleasant Hill police chief has wanted them to sing and dance just for the pure pleasure, and to take delight in watching others smile.

So, when the producer of Star Quest asked a few of his now adult cast to return to the Pleasant Hill stage for the homecoming show, they didn't hesitate.

For Megan Botts Hamzawi, it was a no-brainer to "drop everything" to fly in from her home in Utah. She had performed with Nunes' troupe since 1995 at age 5, until graduating from College Park High School.

Nunes has always been there in a grandfatherly way, attending every one of her performances in other local productions — and her wedding reception last year.

"It's a bond that has lasted," she says. "Returning to the Star Quest stage is like coming home."

The Star Quest show, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Pleasant Hill, has been a venue for youth to discover hidden talents as they are called upon to mentor and choreograph.

"I came into Star Quest an actor and came out a teacher," says Hamzawi, a musical buff, describing herself as a "belter" when asked about her vocal range.

"The classroom has slowly become my stage," adds Hamzawi, who has just been hired to teach French and English at a middle school in the Salt Lake area.

"The purpose is not to be a star," says Nunes, who lives in Concord. "It's that they've gained this self-confidence and self-esteem. That's special to me, to see them succeed."

Gianna Lamanna Summers, a professional soprano with a penchant for Italian and French opera, is now the director of choral music for the El Segundo Unified School District. And, it all started with a Star Quest audition in 1993, singing "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story," while sporting a hot pink cast on her arm.

She still uses the song to audition for other parts — and she has never forgotten what Nunes said when the then-middle school student was feeling unsure of how she would look on stage.

"He said it's not about what you look like; it's about sharing your love of music. It's something I'll never forget, and I instill in my students," she says, noting how her recitals have been modeled after Star Quest. "The idea is to put on a good show to make someone smile … It's vital in the world right now.

"I have such fond memories, so when Jim called, I said yes, of course," Summers adds.

Nunes and the Star Quest experience have touched the lives of more than 1,500 youths who have auditioned or performed since the show's inception. Quite a number of alumnae will be in the audience, as the current cast and returning performers offer renditions of popular Disney songs, Back to Broadway tunes and a patriotic medley.

Kari Flaskerud will treat the crowd to a Lord of the Dance-inspired Irish folk dance.

She has long performed with the McBride School of Irish Dance and is earning her credential to teach this form, describing its unique and characteristic "hard shoe, rhythm and sound."

The Irish dances she performed with Star Quest were a welcome break in her girlhood routine.

"It was a way to have fun without having the competitive edge," she says of the "freedom to choreograph (her) own pieces."

And, serving on Star Quest's organizing committee one year during high school gave her a lens into how much was required to put on a show that starts six months prior to the performance.

Nunes has long been one of her mentors.

"He has so much passion and that level of giving back," she says.

Nunes had no idea what putting on a Star Quest production entailed when he first came up with the vision, and describes his ongoing efforts — including building most of the sets — as a labor of love.

"The only reason I do it is for the kids," he says of the youth who inspire him to keep on going. "And then I get a hug or two; it melts my heart and I say, OK we'll do it for another year."

What: Star Quest, A 20th Anniversary Homecoming annual youth talent show, sponsored by Rotary Club of Pleasant Hill
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 21; and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22. Reception and art show at 6 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Diablo Valley College Performing Arts Theatre, 321 Golf Club Road, Pleasant Hill
Tickets: $12 advance or $15 at the door for adults; $5 (advance), $10 (at the door) for under 18; Available at Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District Office, 147 Gregory Lane, and the Pleasant Hill Police Station, 330 Civic Drive
Information: 925-689-2249