The lights grow dim and the curtains pull back to reveal a spotlight, a microphone and an audience. Most would panic under the pressure of being on center stage, but this is where Danny Marona thrives.
He is entertainer extraordinaire: musician, comedian, writer and producer with a career spanning over five decades. From saloon singer and comic to bandleader and recording artist, this Twin Falls resident has done it all.
His lifelong destiny as a performer began in 1957 when he first performed on stage with the San Francisco Opera Company as a member of a boys choir.
Later on, Marona settled into Southern California, playing gigs at a piano bar, where he honed his skills in making people laugh.
“It was the greatest training ground in the world because I had four hours to myself in the evening to do anything I wanted, but back then the joints you played at had the worst pianos in the world, I hated it,” Marona remembers. “I knew I had to do something different to keep the people entertained. I would do anything, physical things, sacrifice my body to get laughs.”
From venues large and small, Marona gave each performance his all. Many southern Idahoans remember his sparkling performances in Jackpot, Nevada, where he played numerous times throughout his career.
Citing growing health concerns, Marona decided to take a bow with his final tour, “The Last Laugh,” which ended February 2007 in Reno, Nevada.
“I loved it. And sure, I miss it. I’m in love with the performing arts,” he says. “There comes a time in everyone’s life when it is time for a transition. I (retired) for two reasons: A, it was time to step aside and let young people that are chomping at the bit and waiting in the wings to perform; and B, there are other things that I want to do in life.”
Although officially retired, Danny is staying busier than ever. He and his wife Sherry have rotated their time in Twin Falls for 33 years. He is chairman of the Southern Idaho Learning Center Board of Directors and can often be found emceeing various local events.
“Since I’ve been retired, I can do all the things that interest me. I can share my knowledge,” he says.
His retirement has allowed him to focus on giving back. He is especially proud of the recent inception of the Danny
Marona Performing Arts Scholarship Fund. As a high school dropout, Marona came to the realization years ago how difficult it is to pursue a career without proper education.
“I relied on the luck factor,” he says. “Everybody knows that sheer luck isn’t enough to perpetuate a career. Without a meaningful education, your options are severely limited. I vowed years ago that if I was ever in a position to help students go to college, I would.”
Marona says that everyone, in some way, comes into touch with the performing arts every day – whether through television, radio, dance or concert.
“Close your eyes and imagine a world where there are no performing arts. It’s a world you wouldn’t want to live in,” he says. “I believe with all my heart that where performing arts are, there is less violence in the community. The community has greater poise and self respect. When arts are missing, that dimension dissipates. If a kid has a violin in his hand, he doesn’t have a gun in his hand.”
The scholarship fund is just the beginning; Marona is working to build a program that is long-lasting.
“It is vitally important that we build something that will take on a life of its own and we can only do that by keeping the performing arts in the forefront, thereby creating top of the mind awareness within the hearts and minds of all Idahoans. If we do not achieve that goal, we will have failed and I have no intention of failing,” Marona says. “The trick is to build the fund so it’s around 100 years from now.”
Besides providing opportunity for aspiring college-bound southern Idaho students, Marona also keeps busy as a music and drama instructor at the Magic Valley Academy of Performing Arts.
“Although it’s on a different level, there might as well be as much satisfaction in teaching as performing,” he says. “The kids didn’t know me from that part of my life; I was just an old man that showed up in their classroom. You watch the six o’clock news and you’d think that these kids are all rotten. But I’ve been teaching a year and a half now and have never had a disciplinary problem. These kids want to be there and they want to learn.”
Marona has been impressed by the high schoolers’ talent.
“There is so much talent in the Magic Valley. Some of my students have really turned out to be talented kids. They could go all the way to Broadway,” he says.
Now Marona is looking forward to his next adventure: teaching the upcoming College of Southern Idaho Community Education course, “Twin Falls’ Best Comic” – a spin-off from the popular television reality series, “Last Comic Standing.”
By the end of the five-week class, which starts March 28 and runs through April 25, participants will know whether they’ve got what it takes to fill Marona’s shoes.
“We are so lucky to have Danny coming in to do this for us. He is a legend in his own right,” says Sylvia Jensen, Community Education director. “Plus, there has never been an opportunity like this in Twin Falls and with Danny at the helm, it’s sure to be fun.”
Who better to learn from than the master himself?
“I sure hope we have a really big turnout,” Marona says. “I’ve acquired a great deal of insight and knowledge into what makes people laugh. This is a great opportunity for people to try their hand at stand-up.”
The first week’s class delves into what makes something funny. Marona explains that there is a common thread running through comedic monologue.
“Best we can figure, the best things that are funny are the things that happen to 99.99 percent of all the people in the room, like going to somebody’s house and having the commode overflow. At one time or another almost everyone has been through an experience like that.”
Danny will help students develop material and jokes in week two. The next step, in week three, is presentation and timing.
“In week three we’ll actually learn how to do stand-up comedy – pin-point timing, vocal and microphone techniques and the ability to work the crowd,” he says. “In week four, those who want to will get to try 2-5 minutes of stand-up. Then I will pick five students to actually perform their routine the following week in a real live night club setting.”
On April 25 at 7 p.m., those five students will perform at the Turf Club in Twin Falls.
What else is in store for Danny Marona? Time will tell, he says, but odds are he will be making laughs wherever he goes.
“I’m a person that would wither and die if I had to sit out my deck the rest of my life,” he says. “I’ll stay busy ’til the day they send me to assisted living, and then I’ll start the ‘Old Poops’ comedy group there.”