Traverso Singers take karaoke show on the road
By Donna Vickroy email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy October 1, 2012 6:44PM
John Traverso, owner of Traverso's Pizza in Orland Park, sings a karaoke duet with Rosemary Masloroff, of Alsip, at Brementowne Manor in Orland Park, Illinois, Monday, September 24, 2012. Traverso likes to sing karaoke on Saturday nights at his restaurant's patio. He also takes his show on the road several times a year to entertain seniors at local retirement homes. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media
Updated: November 3, 2012 6:04AM
When the moon hits her eye like a big pizza pie, Beverly Stevens knows “that’s amore.”
Dressed in red capris and matching polka dot ballerina flats, the ever-smiling Stevens said, “I like him,” nodding at the man with the microphone. “He sings Italian.”
The man is John Traverso, restaurant proprietor by day and night, karaoke singer in between.
Traverso, who co-owns Traverso’s Italian restaurant, 15601 S. Harlem Ave. in Orland Park, was making sauces and soups that very morning in the kitchen of the eatery. After lunch, he headed home to shower, change and prep for an afternoon gig at Brementowne Manor in Tinley Park.
Traverso and his band of crooners had been there before, so they were met with a packed house.
“When I heard they were coming back, I said, ‘Oh, boy,’” Kitty Lenderink, 90, said. “They sing all the songs we know. This is the music of our time, and they’re really good.”
The Traverso singers are Traverso, of Orland Park; Anthony “Mr. Anthony” Stathos, of Chicago Ridge; Rosemary Wasloroff, of Alsip; Frank Zanocco, of Orland Park; Loretta Whitener, of Crestwood; Tom Torrence, of Burbank; and Ron Larson, of Alsip, who runs Chili’s Karaoke and DJ Service.
The traveling minstrels show grew out of a mutual love to sing karaoke. Traverso first offered the open-mike sing-along to supplied music during a New Year’s Eve party nine years ago. When he saw what a hit it was, he made it a regular on Wednesday and Saturday nights.
About five years ago, a friend who worked as an entertainer invited Traverso to accompany him on a gig at a local nursing home. Traverso enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to get his own group together. The Traverso Singers continued touring senior citizen residential complexes even after Traverso’s friend moved away.
In addition to Brementowne Manor, the Singers have performed at Tinley Courts in Tinley Park, Smith Crossing in Orland Park, Sunrise Senior Living in Orland Park, and Peace Memorial in Palos Park. They perform for free but sometimes the facility charges residents a small fee to cover the cost of their lunch or refreshments.
The afternoon gigs typically last one to three hours. The singers, some of whom still have day jobs, arrange their schedules as best they can to make the shows. At Christmas, the group puts on an evening performance that culminates in “White Christmas.”
“We try to pep the people up a bit,” Traverso said. “We sing the songs they know and we encourage them to participate.”
They don’t have to twist any arms. Toe-tappers quickly become dancers, and humming easily makes way for singing.
At one point during the Brementowne show, Florence Urbanek, 88, grabbed the mike and delighted the mostly female crowd with a jazzy rendition of “Frankie and Johnny.”
When she hit the line, “It only goes to show you, girls, there ain’t a damn bit of good in a man,” the room erupted in cheers and laughter.
“We enjoy it as much as they do,” Stathos said. “You gotta feel it, you gotta truly love it. And we do.”
Traverso said he gets all kinds of requests, for Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Tony Orlando and Patsy Cline. On this day, multiple requests come in for Englebert Humperdink.
The Singers are happy to oblige.
Sometimes the requests are obscure. At one place, a woman asked Traverso to sing anything Irish.
“I had to think, ‘What did I know that was Irish?’ ” he said. He ended up singing “MacNamara’s Band,” which brought tears to the woman’s eyes.
“That’s what it’s all about, giving them a trip down memory lane,” Traverso said.
After each gig, the singers head back to Traverso’s restaurant to unwind.
“We talk about what worked, what we should change,” Traverso said. “One thing we’ve learned, if we’re not having fun, they’re not. So we have fun.”
The concertgoers seem to appreciate it.
“You don’t hear this kind of music any more. It’s really beautiful,” said Joyce Francis, 83, who proudly announced that, yes, she was indeed dancing in her chair.
“I dance anywhere I can,” she said.
“This takes us back to the old times,” said Herta Pasek, 95. “And I can understand every word they say.”
Jim Edwards, 75, is on the waiting list to move in to the facility. He was the only man to attend the recent show.
“I’m here all the time,” he said. “I can’t wait to move in.”