Modesto performer getting by with a lot of help from his famous friends

Broadway actor Jeremy Stolle will perform with singer Lauren Jelencovich at the “A Show for Joe” benefit Monday, Aug. 10, at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto.
Broadway actor Jeremy Stolle will perform with singer Lauren Jelencovich at the “A Show for Joe” benefit Monday, Aug. 10, at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto. Dirty Sugar LLC

When you give to this community, don’t be surprised if this community gives back.

Longtime local musical theater and opera staple Joe Rykert is finding out just how much with a little help from his very talented friends. In March, the 63-year-old Modesto-raised singer and actor was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He has since gone through a round of chemo treatments in preparation for his bone marrow transplant at the end of the month.

Two benefits have been planned to help Rykert, who is now on disability, pay for the $50,000 needed for his medical care. The first concert, dubbed “A Show for Joe,” is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10 at the Gallo Center for the Arts. The second concert, which also will feature a barbecue hot dog dinner, will be at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 22 at his daughter’s Hughson home.

Both will feature some of Rykert’s famous friends and colleagues who are rallying behind the veteran performer, who also used to run his a successful wedding photography business in town.

The concert at the Gallo Center actually came about because one of those friends couldn’t make it to the other concert. But, then, sometimes scheduling conflicts happen when you’re in one of the most iconic productions on Broadway. Modesto native Jeremy Stolle, who got to know Rykert most of his life through his kids and the arts community, currently stars in the New York cast of “The Phantom of the Opera” as Passarino, as well as understudies for the Phantom and Raoul.

When he couldn’t make the Hughson concert, he decided to create his own and enlisted his own famous friends for the show. With him will be singer Lauren Jelencovich, a featured soloist on the Yanni World Tour. Also performing will be the cast of Modesto Performing Arts’ current production of “Guys and Dolls,” members of YES Company, The Academy of Dance Modesto, Center Stage Kids and others. Rykert and his 23-year-old son Joseph – who starred alongside his father last summer in the MPA production of “South Pacific” – also will perform.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Stolle said. “I think it says a lot about Joe. I haven’t seen people just come forward like this before. The Modesto community is just a caring community.”

For his part Rykert, who has lived in Modesto since he was 4 years old, has given plenty of his time and talent to the community over the years. He performed with Townsend Opera for more than 20 years, starring in productions from “La Boheme” to “The Magic Flute,” “Così fan tutte” to “La Traviata.” He has spent as many years with MPA as well, appearing in starring roles in “The Sound of Music,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and last summer’s “South Pacific.” He also has sung at various other community events and for different groups over the years.

“I find Joe himself a perfect example of how communities should be. He is warm, giving, a family guy. He is just lives it with an open heart, and I love it,” Stolle said.

Rykert has six children – ranging in age from 24 to 40 – with his wife Tammy, and 19 grandchildren. His family fundraiser, which happens to fall on his birthday, will feature performances by international opera singers Annalisa Winberg and Roy Stevens. Rykert and his son also will perform at the Hughson show.

“It’s all been quite amazing, quite humbling and quite overwhelming. People have stepped forward and offered so much,” Rykert said of the outpouring of support. “I am so appreciative. I know I have some rough stuff ahead. But I believe there is a God, and I believe he is in control. He allowed this trial to come my way to make me stronger. Hopefully, in some way, through this we can also bless others.”

Tickets to the Gallo Center show will be $20-$30. A donation is requested for admission to the Hughson fundraiser, and raffle tickets will be for sale at the event. All proceeds will benefit Rykert. For more information, visit www.galloarts.org, or to donate, visit www.youcaring.com/joe-rykert-390154.