Viscardi Center luncheon to feature ‘Wicked’ star

Viscardi Center luncheon to feature ‘Wicked’ star
Jennifer DiNoia, a star of the Broadway musical "Wicked," is the featured guest at the Viscardi Center's 2017 Reach for a Star Luncheon. (Photo courtesy of the Viscardi Center)

The Viscardi Center is gearing up for a “Wicked” good time.

Jennifer DiNoia, a star of the hit Broadway musical about the witches from “The Wizard of Oz,” will be the featured performer at the Albertson nonprofit’s Reach for a Star Luncheon on April 4.

The 35th annual event at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury will support after-school and extracurricular programs at the center’s Henry Viscardi School that give students with severe disabilities a chance to interact with their friends outside the classroom, said Kim Brussell, the Viscardi Center’s associate vice president for development and external relations.

“We really firmly believe that a quality education goes beyond solid academics, that these children also need to have the opportunity to grow personally, emotionally, socially,” Brussell said.

DiNoia plays Elphaba, the “Wicked Witch of the West,” in Steven Schwartz’s Tony Award-winning musical, now in its 14th year on Broadway.

She’ll perform a set of songs from the musical and some other tunes, including some with a group of Viscardi School second-graders, Brussell said.

This year’s event is the second in a row to feature a Broadway star. Last year’s featured Chilina Kennedy, who played Carole King in “Beautiful,” a show based on King’s music.

DiNoia signed on for the luncheon after Kennedy told her how great her experience was, Brussell said.

“We are extremely fortunate that we have had this incredible support from the entertainment side,” Brussell said.

Last year’s luncheon raised $235,000 and drew a crowd of 435 people, setting new attendance and fundraising records.

That allowed the Viscardi School to double the number of sessions in its Friday evening recreation program, which offers students activities such as sports, arts and crafts, and computer lab programs, Brussell said.

Proceeds from the luncheon also support the school’s adaptive sports programs and overnight stays in its independent living house, where students spend a night with friends and learn everyday life skills, Brussell said.

“It gives them an opportunity to really kind of hang out with their friends like any other child,” she said.

The lunch started with a small group of women 35 years ago and has made big strides even in recent years, said Ruth Geismar of Manhasset, one of the event’s three co-chairs.

About 250 people  attended about a decade ago when Geismar got involved with the luncheon, she said. Her son, Ryan, attended classes at the Viscardi School as a child; he’s now 18 and a sophomore at Manhasset High School.

The goal is to show the crowd all the good the Viscardi School does for its students and encourage them to support it, Geismar said.

The students also love the chance to rehearse and perform a song with a big name, she said.

“To give them those opportunities is just wonderful, and I think people walk away from that luncheon with a really, really good feeling,” Geismar said.

The Reach for the Star Luncheon starts at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 4, at the Crest Hollow Country Club, located at 8325 Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury.

Tickets start at $150 and can be purchased at

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