Spittin' Image kicks off its 15th season at senior center

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Jewett City - posted Mon., Nov. 12, 2012
Gary Gagne (in mask) leads the cast of Spittin' Image in their opening number. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Gary Gagne (in mask) leads the cast of Spittin' Image in their opening number. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

A full hour’s worth of headline acts – Buddy Holly, The Jackson 5, Madonna, One Direction – played the Griswold Senior Center for a premiere performance on Nov. 5. The stars might have been shorter than the audience expected, but that’s natural, considering most of them are still in sixth grade.

Spittin’ Image, the youth performance group from St. Mary Church in Jewett City, gave the opening performance of its 15th season for a packed house of local seniors. The show, which featured choreographed lip-synched performances of pop songs from several decades, kicked off a season of touring local nursing and assisted living facilities.

The group offered music genres to please virtually anybody who grew up between the 1950s and now. Connie Francis, the Supremes, the Four Seasons, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Whitney Houston all made appearances, complete with feather boas, sequins, tuxedos and musical props – guitars, drums, microphones and even lighting effects.

Gary Gagne, the group’s director and master of ceremonies, kept the show moving and the crowd pumped up. “You remember Buddy Holly? You’re not old enough,” he told one venerable gentleman in the crowd. “I’m 75,” the audience member declared. “You’re not older than 55,” Gagne responded. “You’re doing pretty good for 75.”

After his rendition of “Peggy Sue,” 'Buddy’ (portrayed by John) stepped into the crowd with Gagne. “You want to meet Buddy in person? That’ll be $5,” Gagne joked as he shook hands with the spectators.

Gagne, who has been teaching sixth grade CCD (religious education) at St. Mary Parish for more than three decades, said he came up with the idea for the group as a way to connect kids with the older members of the community. “I always felt you have to take Christianity from the classroom to help other people,” he said. “I was trying to find a way to get them to actively interact with the seniors.”

Kids from the CCD classes are offered the chance in sixth grade to volunteer for the group, but practices are held separately from the religious education classes, Gagne said. “Every year we have kids who ask to come back,” he said. He chose the lip-synching format since it’s non-competitive and not dependent on musical talent. However, this year one of his performers, a budding saxophonist, had the crowd singing along to well-known patriotic songs like “America.”

This season the group of 14 performers has 22 shows on its slate, which continues through Christmas. “We go all over southeastern New England,” Gagne said. “Meet and greet” opportunities are built into the show, as performers are introduced to the audience members after each song. Kids are encouraged to circulate through the crowd, shaking hands, during the big production numbers (notably “The Chicken Dance” and the grand finale).

The group’s name derives from a phrase from the “olden days” Gagne remembers hearing as a kid: “You’re the spittin’ image of your dad.” The group has also made appearances at local parades, Youthtopia, and other community events.

Senior Center Director Tina Falck said that the center looks forward to hosting the show’s premiere each year. “This is where they open up their act before they take it on the road,” she said. “The seniors love it.”

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