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Ligonier Theatre presents Christmas concert

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 1:48 p.m.
Director Francine Mitchell shares a laugh with young cast members Hayley Gunter, 17, of Rector and Jacob Withrow, 13, of Ligonier, who will play the roles of the librarian and scraggly Santa in the Ligonier Theatre's upcoming Christmas production, 'Yes Virginia, the Musical.'

Rebecca Ridinger
Director Francine Mitchell shares a laugh with young cast members Hayley Gunter, 17, of Rector and Jacob Withrow, 13, of Ligonier, who will play the roles of the librarian and scraggly Santa in the Ligonier Theatre's upcoming Christmas production, 'Yes Virginia, the Musical.' --

The season's charm and compassion has started to sparkle as the Ligonier Theatre prepares for the annual Christmas special — this year, the spotlight will shine on the youth troupe's presentation of “Yes, Virginia the Musical” followed by spirited renditions of choir songs and a nativity reenactment. The two-part production will be performed by 30 young thespians ranging from the ages of six to 18, and will feature singing, dancing and scenes set in the Victorian era, where the story of Virginia and her search for Santa unfold.

“Everybody is doing fantastic-the kids are singing and dancing and remembering it all,” said Director Francine Mitchell, who has been working with the theater for nearly two decades. “We are making sure every child has something to do — no one is left out and everybody is pitching in — it's really a community thing.”

The show is part of Macy's National Believe Campaign, an annual event during which children can drop off letters to Santa at Macy's locations, and, for every letter sent, Macy's will donate a dollar up to a million dollars to Make-a-Wish. Since the program's inception, 6 and a half million dollars has been raised.

“The show has been really well received,” said Macy's New York-based Director of Public Relations, Deanna Williams. “It's such a wonderful story — there is such a give-back component. That's what this season is all about — giving back.”

The musical takes place in 1897, the year in which the inquisitive 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun asking if there was indeed a Santa Claus. Editor Francis Church, who remained anonymous at the time, included in his reply that, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and went on to explain to the curious child that sometimes the most true things are the things we cannot see. The spirit of faith and goodness captured by this exchange went on to become a part of United States history and the story is now being performed by schools and theaters nationwide.

Olivia Johnston, 9, of Ligonier takes the lead role as Virginia, while Jonathon Shawley, 9, of Ligonier will play her best friend, Ollie. Both parts have solo and duet musical numbers.

“I heard about the auditions and I wanted to try it,” Shawley explained. “I looked at the video and realized I wanted the part of Ollie.”

For Johnston, this is her second time taking the stage in a play, but she isn't the least bit daunted. “I'm very excited,” she said. “The biggest challenge is learning all of your lines on time.”

Mitchell, whose grandson, Noah, 6, will also perform, is embracing the event with warm enthusiasm.

“It's fun to see the sparkle in the kids' eyes when they are up there singing a song,” she said. “We get a lot of talent out of this area — it's amazing.”

Performances of “Yes, Virginia the Musical” will take place at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Ligonier Theatre, located at 208 W. Main St. Reservations can be made by dialing 724-238-6514 ext. 2 or by visiting the Theatre's website. All tickets are $15.

Rebecca Ridinger is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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