Valley Youth Theatre show features Chandler actress - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Valley Youth Theatre show features Chandler actress

August 16th, 2021 development
Valley Youth Theatre show features Chandler actress


When Valley Youth Theatre streams its VYTal Affair-athon fundraiser on Aug. 21, Chandler residents may recognize a familiar face on VYT’s stage.

Jessica Wastchak has been singing and dancing across the Valley since she was 5, most recently performing the lead role of Katherine Blake in Hamilton High School’s production of “Freaky Friday.”

She will give one last performance before she leaves Chandler to begin her freshman year at New York University.

And it’s only fitting that her final act benefit VYT.

“VYT has been a constant in this crazy COVID time,” said Wastchak, who has performed in six VYT productions and is part of VYTeens, the theater company’s teen show choir. “I’m grateful for everything they have given me in the last few years and want to help in any way I can.”

She’s not the only one who feels that way. Indeed, performers and alumni from productions over the past three decades jumped at the opportunity to participate in the fundraiser.

The eight-hour, Jerry Lewis-style telethon will feature live and recorded interviews and performances from nearly 100 current “VYTkids” and alumni cast members – including stars of stage and screen like Broadway’s Nick Cartell, who recently completed a two-and-a-half-year run as Jean Valjean in the National Tour of “Les Misérables.”

“This event is an opportunity to showcase the incredible talent in Phoenix to people around the world,” said Bobb Cooper, VYT’s longtime artistic director. “The cast for this fundraiser includes performers as young as 9 years old, seasoned professionals who were in our shows 30 years ago and everyone in between. It’s going to be a day of amazing performances.”

The fundraiser will stream live from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at and on Facebook Viewers can tune in and out anytime throughout the day.

Wastchak will perform “What Baking Can Do” from the beloved musical “Waitress.” She certainly is one to watch: at just 18, she already has won multiple National Youth Arts awards for her performances and hopes to make it big on Broadway.

The opportunity to perform in VYTal Affair-athon is especially sweet for Wastchak considering the challenges of the last year.

“I went from being extremely busy to not having anything on my calendar in less than a week once the pandemic hit,” she said. “It was a major life shift, but there was a silver lining as I headed into the college audition process.

“There was nothing to stop me from focusing only on training and I ended up getting accepted into my dream school, NYU, to study music theater. I am so excited to perform in VYTal one last time before I leave.”

The virtual event replaces the 27th annual VYTal Affair, the theater’s biggest annual fundraiser. It’s the second year the COVID-19 crisis prompted VYT to take the event online.

Said Cooper, “We are truly grateful for the swell of support we’ve received over the last 18 months. It has touched our hearts and reaffirmed our commitment to inspire young people to be the best they can be – on stage and, more importantly, in life.”

Most of the performances were pre-recorded in July.

In addition to vocal performances, the event will include live Zoom interviews with alumni, multi-track numbers and a few surprise guests.

A highlight of the fundraiser is the 21-year reunion of the cast of West Side Story, which played at VYT in 2000.

Five alumni performers from the original production – Nick Cartell, Katie “Rex” Casey, Chris Ciccarelli, Sharie “Combs” Nievar and Ian Sidden – will come together for a virtual performance of the powerful “Tonight Quintet.”

Each hour of the telethon will be hosted by a local celebrity, including Yetta Gibson, Gina Salazar Hook, John Hook, Brad Perry and Carey Peña.

The fundraiser will also include a silent auction featuring travel, entertainment, skin care, spa, hotel, food and beverage and dozens of other packages.

“This fundraiser will jump-start the next phase of Valley Youth Theatre,” said Cooper.

Indeed, the theater just announced its return to live performances. VYT will stage “Spookley the Square Pumpkin, The Musical” from Oct. 1-31. Rounding out the season are the 25th annual production of “A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Junie B. Jones, The Musical” and “High School Musical.”

High-profile performers who got their start at VYT include Emma Stone, Jordin Sparks, Kimiko Glenn, Chelsea Kane, Max Crumm, Matt Dallas, Columbus Short, Nick Cartell and Sam Primack.