Singing With the Desert Stars coach Lizzie Schmelling: "I’m very excited and honored to be a part of this. … It is so important to foster support and education for young artists.”

What’s your greatest fear? For many, it is speaking or singing in front of an audience.

If any of the six local leaders who are contestants in Desert Ensemble Theatre’s Singing With the Desert Stars have these fears, they’ll need to overcome them—because singing in front of an audience is exactly what they’re going to be doing on Friday, Oct. 7, to benefit DET’s education programs.

The event, conceived by Danny Kopelson, is a first for DET. In previous years, the theater company produced a cabaret show as its annual fundraiser—but this year, the company decided to go for something a little more interactive.

Here’s how the event works: Each contestant is paired with a coach who is a professional singer. The coaches will work with their mentees, and everyone will sing on the night of the event. Both coaches and the contestants have donated their time, so 100 percent of the proceeds will go to DET’s education programs, which provide scholarships to technical theater interns. Since its inception in 2012, DET has awarded more than $21,000 in scholarships. After graduating, many interns have returned to work with DET.

The host for the evening is DET’s artistic director, Jerome Elliott Moskowitz, with music direction provided by Constance Gordy. The audience will choose the winner by filling out a ballot after the final singer has performed.

Tickets to the event include a catered preshow reception, a post-show celebration, and an open bar sponsored by the Palm Springs Cultural Arts Center.

“I reached out to singers, some of whom have worked with DET before, who gladly donated their time to be coaches,” Moskowitz said.

Then came the search for contestants.

“Shawn Abramowitz (DET’s executive director and board president), Danny Kopelson and I came up with a short list of community members we wanted to ask to be contestants,” Moskowitz said.

The coach-singer pairs are:

  • Jeff Barnett and the McCallum Theatre’s Jeffrey Norman.
  • Darci Daniels and the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert’s Charles Huff.
  • Patrick Evans and doctor of dental surgery Joe Zakowski.
  • Charles Herrera and The Desert Sun’s Winston Gieseke.
  • Lizzie Schmelling and artist/businessperson Christine Tringali Nunes.
  • Leslie Tinnaro and Shay’s Warriors founder Shay Moraga.

Moskowitz said the contestants are quite invested in their performances.

“Seeing these contestants really dig into the work, seeing their enthusiasm, has been one of the best things about this event,” Moskowitz said.

Gordy will be on the keyboards so the contestants get the feel of singing with live accompaniment.

Singing With the Desert Stars host Jerome Elliott Moskowitz: “Seeing these contestants really dig into the work, seeing their enthusiasm, has been one of the best things about this event.”

“As opposed to a pre-recorded track, a pianist can listen to the performer and meld with them, creating a very special moment,” Moskowitz said.

Coach Lizzie Schmelling, who has performed with DET before, said when Moskowitz approached her about participating, she thought he was asking her to be a contestant at first.

“When they said they wanted me for one of the coaches, I thought, ‘This will be awesome,’” Schmelling said. “This was a welcome surprise. I’m very excited and honored to be a part of this. … It is so important to foster support and education for young artists.”

Contestant Shay Moraga is a newcomer to performing live.

“I was at an (Academy of Fundraising Professionals) meeting, and Shawn (Abramowitz) and I began talking,” Moraga said, explaining how she got involved

Moraga said that singing “is the No. 1 thing” on her list of things that scare her, and that she’d challenged herself to learn to sing this year. When Abramowitz explained that there would be coaches, and the proceeds went to the theater’s educational program, Moraga, a cancer survivor, was all in.

“Singing has brought me a lot of joy,” Moraga said. “Through this process, I have been singing my song constantly—and that brings me joy. Cancer took that from me for a while.”

It’s been five years since Moraga’s diagnosis, and she said she’s now cancer-free.

“I’m starting to learn that it’s really OK to let go, to go from just surviving to thriving in life after cancer,” she said. “I want to see shows. I want to be a part of this joy.”

Singing With the Desert Stars will take place on Friday, Oct. 7, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. A reception catered by Eight4Nine starts at 6:30 p.m., and the show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $100. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476 , or visit

Kevin Mann is the Independent’s editorial intern; his internship is funded by the Coachella Valley Journalism Foundation. Kevin can be reached at

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Kevin Mann

Kevin Mann is a former bankruptcy paralegal who's made a U-turn into filmmaking and journalism. He has also written for the College of the Desert’s Chaparral and The Desert Sun. His screenplay, Appetite,...