Special needs talent show draws 1,000 for 7th annual event

It was truly their night to shine! With a crowd of over 1,000 packed into the historic Union County Arts Center, the Shining Stars cast put on a spectacular performance, singing and dancing their way through “Music From the Decades” — which featured songs from the 20’s to today while totally engaging the audience at every turn. The show, which starred 30 special needs individuals from around Union County, took the stage with their high school volunteer buddies and rocked the house from start to finish.

The well-conceived concept kept everyone engaged throughout the show, topped off by the finale, which featured Gloria Estefan hits Get On Your Feet, Conga and Turn the Beat Around, where the cast joined the audience for the exciting finish. U.C.P.A.C. Executive Director Brian Remo could not have been more impressed with the cast performances. 

“This event and these amazing young artists have inspired not only the surrounding community, but each other, in what was truly one of the most memorable nights this stage has ever seen.” Each decade was represented by several songs, where the entire cast took part in a big dance ensemble. The show was highlighted by solo acts from each member of the special needs cast — who performed an array of hits, from the Beatles “All You Need Is Love” to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way “ to Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” — which garnered one of many standing ovations throughout the evening. 

The 7th annual “Evening of Shining Stars” was an idea conceived and developed by Cranford resident Sally Curci, who back in 2012 had the idea of giving local special needs children the opportunity to shine on stage through the performing arts by putting on a full show. Since then, the show has become a must-see event, leading to their recent record-breaking show. 

“While all of our previous shows have been wonderful, we wanted our cast to have the chance to perform on a professional stage and the Union County Performing Arts Center was the perfect venue.,” said Sally Curci. “I’m so proud of every one of our stars. It was like being on Broadway, The crowd was amazing and the performances were wonderful. It was a perfect night.” 

Master of Ceremonies Ryan Fay was masterful again, entertaining the audience in between acts while making sure the show moved smoothly. Ryan has been the emcee from the beginning, and his wit and humor continues to charm the audience. His brother, Sean Fay, had everyone singing to Sweet Caroline in another great moment. Along with Director Sally Curci, the show was guided by Co-Director Nicole Greene, Sally’s daughter, and Assistant Director Angie Sandoukas, who was a former volunteer “buddy” who returned to join the Shining Stars staff.

All three are special needs teachers. “This was an incredible night,” noted Nicole Greene. “For many of us, it’s our favorite time of the year. The performers put their hearts and souls into rehearsals for months, and to see them shine on stage even brighter every year is absolutely incredible. It is amazing to see how passionate the audience is, and how proud the performers are of themselves. I feel so lucky just to be a part of this experience.” 

The show’s Executive Producer and Shining Stars CEO, Mike Curci, is a television broadcaster and producer who also runs the day-to-day operations of Shining Stars Network. a 501(c)3 non profit organization which shines the light on the special needs community through the performing arts and various events throughout the year. But no, doubt, the annual show is the biggest highlight. “I am so proud of every one of our cast members and the entire Shining Stars team of volunteers, said Curci. “Each and every one of them shares in the success of this show. They truly inspire us every day. It was an emotional night watching them perform in front of a big crowd at an iconic venue. They proved they belonged there.” 

Shining Stars would like to thank the U.C.P.A.C. staff, who helped them through the process of putting on a show of this magnitude.  “It was incredible to see this show come to life after four months of rehearsals,” continued Mike Curci. “Everyone worked extremely hard. I was especially moved by the audience response. They were wonderful. We’re honored that so many people came to see our stars. And of course, this couldn’t have been done without the generosity of our sponsors and boosters who helped make this happen and our dedicated parents who helped in so many ways. It was a night we’ll always remember.”

Members of the cast include: Joe Bacque, Gina Berry, Alexis Cassino, Alejandro Colon, Brian Curci, Courtney Curci, Aidan Dolan, Andrew Downey, Ryan Fay, Sean Fay, Adam Fleissner, Bret Fleming, Aidan Flynn, Jessie Gaeta, Elizabeth Garcia, Meghan Lamar, Caitlin Madden, Brian McAuliffe, Dan Montealegre, Josh Moreines, Simone Palermo, Melissa Pearl, Gerard Russomanno, Alyssa Santos, Andrew Seiler, Nicole Serkin, Garrett Smith, Dominick Vito, and Mark Zulauf. This year’s volunteer high school “buddies” were Johnny Bush, Diego Colon, Tim Eimer, McKenna Flynn, Abby Heller, Kayla Hooey, Judith Kikikis, Mark Lynch, Kelly McAulliffe, Izzy Pinto, Peter Roefaro, Kelly Ryan, Hannah Scepkowski, Leah Scepkowski, and Sarah Scepkowski,  Special thanks to Jamie Greene, Beth Wolfe, Jim & Kathy Parlapiano, Amy Downey, Johanna Hathaway, Christina Smith, Maria Palermo, Joe Silano, Derek Thorn, Andrew Iocavano, Megan Convery, Megan Santarelli and all the parents who contributed their time and efforts, and thank you to Lori Fleissner for her outstanding photography. 

Shining Stars Network is also excited to announce the return of Camp Shine, a two-week performing arts camp for special needs individuals ages 10 and up. The camp will take place at the Fanwood Presbyterian Church from August 21-30. Please email for more information. 

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