The holiday season brings many things to mind – Christmas lights, treats, music and decorations, along with characters that brighten the season like Santa Claus, elves, reindeer and snowmen.
East Valley Children’s Theatre is capturing the magic of the holidays through their musical performance of “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” at Mesa Arts Center Nov. 30- Dec. 10.
“The play is based on a true event that happened,” said Karen Rolston, artistic director, East Valley Children’s Theatre. “An 8-year-old girl living in New York City in 1897 wrote a letter to the editor of The Sun Times, because she wanted to find out if there was a Santa Claus; and her father kept saying ‘if you see it in The Sun, it’s true,’…and the editor actually wrote back this wonderful letter about hope and good things come to people who believe in something.”
“Yes, Virginia,” is based on a letter 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon sent to the editor of The New York Sun in September 1897. The editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, responded with an unsigned editorial which was printed on Sept. 21, 1897.
“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”
Excerpt of Church’s Response:
“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
In terms of casting the right young talent that fit the musical, Rolston said auditions at East Valley Children’s Theatre (EVCT) are open to everyone and no advanced preparation is required. Those who audition are taught songs and choreography from the show, in addition to reading from the script. Rolston said from that process, they look for kids that can move, and sing and act – and 32 kids ages 8 to 18 were selected for “Yes, Virginia.”
Performing in his eighth show at EVCT, Owen Wrather plays Danny, a typesetter at The Sun Times in “Yes, Virginia.” Danny serves as a supporting character for Francis, as well as being part of the comic relief for the musical.
“I’m kind of funny if I do say so myself,” Wrather said of his performance as Danny in the comedic aspects. “And also, he kind of helps move the scenes in the office along as kind of a messenger of it.”
As for Danny’s character, Wrather said he is “very happy-go-lucky unless there’s a deadline that needs to be met.” He follows the rules and he’s also polite, and is respectful of the position he’s in at the paper.
“I just love the performance aspect of being at EVCT because it’s so much fun being at the Mesa Arts Center and performing with all these great people,” Wrather said. “I just really enjoy being in that environment and having that kind of pressure and being able to put on a show.”
“It’s a show for everybody, it’s really about family and the real meaning of Christmas like giving and helping people,” Rolston said. “Everything in the show is relevant to things that happen today, and I think it’s one of those shows that gives you a good feeling. One of the kids said, ‘This is a show about hope isn’t it? Like for the future and everything is going to be better,’ and I thought, ‘You’re only 8, how did you say that?’”
Rolston said the show has a thread throughout in the music and script that if you believe strongly in something, there’s hope for the future – fitting for the musical and the magic of the holiday season.
East Valley Children’s Theatre presents “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” Nov. 30-Dec. 10 at Mesa Arts Center, Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse, One E. Main Street. Times vary. Tickets: adults, $15, ages 17 and under, $11. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit: MesaArtsCenter.com.
– Mesa resident Alyssa Tufts is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.