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'Yes Virginia the Musical' coming to Connellsville

Linda Harkcom | for the Daily Courier
Stage Right’s Home School students will perform “Yes Virginia the Musical” at the Edwin S. Porter Theater on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 14 at 4 and 7 p.m. Some of the cast members are (front, from left) Ben Couchenour, 10, of Delmont as Ollie; (second row) Brianna Lovett, 12, of Irwin as Charlotte; Jessica Evans, 13, of Latrobe as Miriam, The Librarian; Carolyn Jerz, 11, of Unity Township and Elise Fitzgerald, 17, of Springdale, both of whom will play Virginia; Maurielle Evans, 10, of North Apollo who will play Mrs. Whiskers; (third row) Peter Jerz, 15, of Unity Township and Conor McQueen, 11, of Kecksburg, both of whom will play Mr. Church, editor of The New York Sun newspaper.

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Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

Does Santa Claus really exist? Children have been asking that question for generations.

In 1897, one little girl named Virginia O'Hanlon was determined to find out and wrote a letter to The New York Sun. The editor's response to her letter became one of the most famous newspaper editorials ever and inspired future generations to believe in the holiday spirit.

“Yes Virginia the Musical” shares this classic real-life Christmas story. The show will be presented Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 14 at 4 and 7 p.m. at the Edwin S. Porter Theater in Connellsville by Stage Right's Home School student group.

“I've always loved the story of ‘Yes Virginia,' ” said director and choreographer Renata Marino. “When we were thinking about doing the show, I went back and read the editor's response to Virginia. I cry every time I read it because it really just epitomizes Christmas in every way.”

The musical was adapted specifically for Macy's by William Schermerhorn from the animated special and storybook based on O'Hanlon's story by Chris Plehal. The holiday classic has been adapted into a heartwarming stage show written specifically for children.

As part of its commitment to arts education, Macy's makes “Yes, Virginia The Musical” available to teachers royalty-free.

“This is a brand-new show only offered this year or last year. It was written by Macy's and they provide you with everything, even performance tracks, so you don't have to have a full orchestra,” Marino said.

The show features 16 all new songs written specifically for the musical by Macy's Emmy Award-winning songwriters Wesley Whatley and Schermerhorn.

“The songs are short, sweet and they are kid-friendly but have wonderful themes and messages,” Moreno said.

The show will feature students from both the preteen and teen home school classes at Stage Right. Marino said the leads will be different in each of the three shows with teen leads in the Friday and Saturday night shows and preteen leads in the afternoon show.

“There are not a large number of cast leads but a large number of talented kids. We usually have the teens play the adults when we have a combined show but we have so many talented preteens we were able to give them the leads themselves and when they are not leads they are part of the ensemble so are vital to all performances,” Marino said.

One of the preteens is Conor McQueen, 11, of Kecksburg who will portray Mr. Church, editor of The New York Sun newspaper on Saturday at 4 p.m.

This will be McQueen's ninth show with Stage Right. He said this is his biggest role so far and is a little nervous about playing such a big role but is having fun doing it.

“He's a grumpy old man but I like how he comes through in the end by doing a good deed for Virginia,” he said.

Carolyn Jerz may be only 11 but is already a veteran stage performer having appeared in more than 20 shows with Stage Right — most recently as one of the Young Fiona with Stage Right's Professional Theater Company's production of “Shrek the Musical” last month.

Jerz will play Virginia in the Saturday afternoon show.

“I'm very excited to play a historical character and to show children how much one can believe in Santa Claus,” Jerz said. “I like her because she is such an energetic young girl and it's going to be a challenge to be a believable 8-year- old.”

Tickets are $5 for adults and students in advance and can be purchased by calling Stage Right at 724-832-7464. Tickets will also be sold at the door for $7 each. Seating for this event is festival style.

Linda Harkcom is a contributing writer.

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