Puts on one-man-show, hopes to expand efforts
Even the toughest crowds for Norco’s Frank LaRosa seem to eventually come around — the singer and performer remembers one such instance fondly.
“I remember one lady by a table asked, ‘are ya any good? You better be good or we’re gonna leave,’” LaRosa said with a laugh.
That was at one of the many retirement homes and assisted living facilities where LaRosa has put on his act over the years. That particular person may indeed have been a tough cookie to crack, but ultimately she was sold.
“That group was the first to come over to take a picture when it was over,” LaRosa said.
LaRosa started putting on shows for the elderly 17 years ago. His act includes parodies, comedy, and homages to many great singers of the past and present, from Elvis to Hank Williams to many others.
“I do a variety of singers … I play the part as close as possible,” LaRosa said. “I cut up and joke around with them. I’ll try to sing like the record and I’m pretty good at it … I do a variety of 50 or 60 songs.”
It’s something he’s always found quite rewarding.
“Singing the songs they all remember, teasing and joking with them and seeing the joy and smiles on their faces brings a feeling that just can’t be described in words,” LaRosa said, later adding, you have people with Alzheimer’s singing … for some of them, they may not be able to remember their name, but they remember the song and they know the words.
“When a resident comes up to you and tells you you’re their favorite, it’s just unbelievable. That’s why you do it.”
Sometimes he’ll even find a familiar face in the audience — or they’ll find him.
“I heard a voice from behind me say, ‘Mr. LaRosa,’” he fondly recalled. “And I turn around and there’s my fourth grade teacher. It’s like, wow, how long ago was that … that was the 60s.”
“No matter where I’ve performed, performing for them is still what gives me the best feeling … you just can’t put that feeling into words.”- Frank LaRosa
His talents have not been exclusive to locals. A parody he wrote of the Conway Twitty song, “It’s Only Make Believe” garnered enough buzz to draw the attention of those behind The Tonight Show, at the time hosted by Jay Leno. They flew him out to California where he made his television debut in a brief performance before Leno, actor Ed Asner and the studio audience. The segment can be found on YouTube.
“I wear a hairpiece and when the song begins, nobody knows it … I take it off and they crack up,” LaRosa said. “It ends up on video and two weeks later I get a call from the Tonight Show and they told me they thought it was hilarious,” he said.
He hasn’t been able to perform as much as he’d like for the elderly, as he said many facilities seemingly have cut back on booking entertainment. The relative scarcity of those performances have left him with a void, and he’s made it a goal to double-down on his efforts: his goal is to establish a mission where he can entertain at retirement facilities for three to four days a week, locally, statewide and beyond.
“Many facilities don’t have the budget to pay at all for entertainment, and it’s sad because I know the joy it can bring to them,” LaRosa said. “I’ve seen it firsthand. And anything out of state is going to require more than the small fee those facilities would be able to pay.”
Those limitations spurred him to begin a GoFundMe (titled Entertainment for the Elderly) to get him started, with the goal to raise enough money to cover travel expenses and to be able to perform for facilities that cannot afford to pay for entertainment.
“It brings me as much joy as it does for them,” said LaRosa, who primarily does contracting work and says with that part of his work slowing down this time of year, it represents a great chance to further his entertaining efforts.
“I’ve entertained in many venues and performing on the Tonight Show was great, but it doesn’t compare to performing for the elders,” he said. “No matter where I’ve performed, performing for them is still what gives me the best feeling … you just can’t put that feeling into words.”