By Tom Waring
Times Staff Writer
As he was thinking of ideas for his senior class project, John DiFerdinando decided to share his love of Broadway music with senior citizens.
The Cheltenham High School senior was welcomed by a number of local retirement communities. He accepted opportunities to perform at Deer Meadows, Paul's Run, Philadelphia Protestant Home and Gloria Dei Farms.
"I wanted to give performances at retirement communities where the residents can't get out," he said.
In his mission, he recruited several fellow Cheltenham students and talented vocalists.
Seniors Justin Leis, Sophia Geron-Neubauer and Chelsea Lawson, juniors Tom Kuchler, Alli Aaron and Rachael Hicks and sophomore Sami Goldberg agreed to join DiFerdinando on his long Presidents Day free weekend concert tour.
"I can always count on them when I need them," he said.
"He'd do something like this for us," Kuchler said.
Lawson's senior project is also entertainment-related, as she is studying Philadelphia music history. She jumped at the chance to take part in her friend's singing project.
"It was a good experience. We're doing something we love to do," she said.
The first stop was Paul's Run, at 9896 Bustleton Ave., on a recent Friday afternoon.
Hicks served as the sound technician while the others showed off their powerful singing voices.
DiFerdinando spoke about each show and song, and the singers performed solo and in duets and small groups. All were sharply dressed in black attire.
The music came from Aida, La Cage Aux Folles, Avenue Q, Les Miserables, Shrek the Musical, South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, Spring Awakening and West Side Story.
"I love Broadway, and I picked music from a whole range of shows," DiFerdinando said.
All of the songs were crowd-pleasers, especially the closing number, The Best of Times, from La Cage Aux Folles. The teenagers walked into the crowd and greeted the seniors, who clapped and sang along.
"It's a great ending song," DiFerdinando said. "I saw a lot of people singing along."
Many in the audience stayed around to talk to the young people and asked them to return. "I loved it. They were wonderful," said Jeanne Feldbaum.
Fran Burkhard, an associate in the life enrichment program at Paul's Run, was glad the talented young singers paid a visit.
"They're a really good group, and I hope they come back again," she said.
DiFerdinando chose Paul's Run because his uncle's mother Julie Kushner — his "Bubbie" — is a resident.
That night, the group was supposed to visit Deer Meadows, 8301 Roosevelt Blvd., where his grandmother Jean Herring lives. A medical issue at the facility, though, forced a postponement to a later date.
Two days later, DiFerdinando brought the troupe to his home church, Fox Chase United Methodist Church.
That night, the entertainers performed at the Philadelphia Protestant Home, 6500 Tabor Road, in appreciation of the care that DiFerdinando's late great-grandmother received.
The following afternoon, they headed to Hatboro's Gloria Dei Farms, where the residents have supported the Cheltenham music program.
"We're always looking for a chance to sing," Aaron said.
The tunes came naturally to the teenagers. "We practiced a little bit, but we picked songs we knew and liked to sing," Leis said.
DiFerdinando, 17, a member of the National Honor Society, headed to Universal Studios in Orlando last Saturday with the marching band. He plays the trumpet and French horn. The Marching Panthers performed as part of a Mardi Gras celebration.
Later, he'll appear in Cheltenham's production of Guys and Dolls, April 14 to 16.
After graduation, he plans to attend Temple University and study theater.