When the Musical Moms present their third annual "Little Patch of Heaven" radio show fundraiser Friday and Saturday at in Wheaton, there'll be bluegrass and country, opera and retro, spoofs on Wheaton and contemporary life, and a whole lot of laughter.
"One of the comments we get is, 'I had so much fun. I haven't laughed like that in a long time,'" said Robin Wiper of Villa Park, one of the three Musical Moms, who's also a former opera singer and home schooling mother of four. "It's very much like 'Prairie Home Companion.'"
If you goIf you go
What: "Little Patch of Heaven" old-time radio show
When: 7:30 p.m. March 9, 3:30 p.m. March 10
Where: College Church, 335 E. Seminary Ave., Wheaton
Cost: Freewill donation
Info: (630) 206-0243 or starsfamilyservices.org
She and Joleen Billingham and Marcia Macy, both of Wheaton, have been working on ideas for the fundraiser since May and say the show gets bigger every year.
Last year, more than 700 people attended and donated $50,000 to help provide housing for developmentally disabled adults. This year, the fundraiser has been expanded to two shows and will include an 11-piece band.
"I think people like it because it's upbeat and positive," Macy said. "It's a real family-friendly show. Kids like it, too."
The Musical Moms enjoy it enough to take time out of their busy schedules to prepare and rehearse for months.
"The later our rehearsal times go, the more we laugh," said Macy, a mother of two who studied voice in college and has sung semiprofessionally.
"It's a great cause," said Billingham, a singer/songwriter, mom of three, and lead Sunday school teacher in her church's STARS ministry for the intellectually disabled. She also volunteers in the STARS Family Services resale shop.
STARS Family Services was incorporated in 2008 to provide housing and related services to adults in the church's STARS Ministry, which serves about 100 families in DuPage County.
One home for four men opened last June in north Wheaton, and lots have been purchased for two more homes.
Audience members don't pay admission to the fundraiser, but a presentation is made during the show on the need for donations to support STARS housing.
"The need is so great," Wiper said. "The bigger our audience gets, the more aware people get."
Wiper's life now is far different from the decade or more she spent singing in opera houses in Europe, The Metropolitan Opera in New York City and Lyric Opera in Chicago. "I traveled a lot," she said.
Now, while home schooling four children, she teaches voice and sings with her friends when their schedules permit. They entertain at churches, women's retreats and community events.
"People ask us to sing and we look at what else is going on and figure out if we can do it," Wiper said.
Drawn together by common interests, Billingham and Macy already were singing together before Wiper joined about eight years ago. Billingham had found some trio music and they needed a high soprano.
They hesitated to ask Wiper, a church member they hadn't met, knowing her professional background. Then they learned she once sang in a trio and grew up with southern Gospel.
"We sang together and almost immediately people asked us to sing more," Wiper said. "We have a lot of fun. We all bring such different backgrounds to the table."
Billingham, with two children in high school and one in college, favors country and folk. Macy, an occupational therapist in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 who's mothering an exchange student along with her own two sons this year, has sung primarily contemporary Christian music.
When they get together, Wiper gets the high notes, Macy sings the low notes and shares the rest of the range with Billingham.
"One of the nicest things I get to do is sing with these two ladies," Macy said. "Sometimes we come to rehearsals feeling tired and grouchy. We never leave that way."
They sung together a number of times before they had a name for themselves and people wanted to know what to call them. Musical Moms just seemed to be an apt description, Macy said.
But in case the name gives the impression these are just moms using whatever talents they have to put on a well-meaning, but amateurish show, think again, said Richard Chase, chairman of STARS Family Services.
"You are just blown away with the quality of the performance," he said. "It is a professional performance."
Church member Todd Busteed, owner of Gap Digital in Wheaton, acts as master of ceremonies. He said the Musical Moms are fearless.
"They're so creative," he said. "They'll take a simple song and do an arrangement that will cause mere mortals to weep."
Macy said they're picky about the music they choose.
"We listen to a lot of music," she said. "We have to love the music we pick for the show."
Performances last almost two hours and include an intermission. Roughly 20 people are onstage, including Macy's husband, an actor in the show, and Billingham's husband, a pianist and band director.
The moms estimate there are another 80 people behind the scenes, including participants in the STARS ministry who usher. Others do everything from building sets (they've added a barn this year) to lighting.
"It's nice because people start to come out of the woodwork and say, 'Well, I know how to do that. I can help you with that," Macy said. "And they do."
For details, contact starsfamilyservices.org or call (630) 206-0243.