Although nine-year-old Laurelie Mufute plays the part of a girl who wants to know if there is a Santa Claus in “Yes, Virginia The Musical,” she personally has no doubts.
“I believe what I want to believe,” she said during rehearsal at the Frank R. Conwell PS No. 3 in Jersey City in early December.
The play is about a little girl who wrote in 1897 to a New York City newspaper asking if Santa Claus was real, and became the model for the popular holiday classic film, “Miracle on 34th Street.”
“She likes Santa Claus and wants to believe in Santa Claus,” Laurelie said.
The hardest part of playing the role is that she never actually got into an argument over whether she believed in Santa Claus.
Singing isn’t too much of a challenge, she said, because she likes to sing.
She is a fourth grader, who already has experience in theater having played in the school’s version of “Annie” last year.
Learning her lines, she said, was a bit of a challenge, but she practiced at home a lot.
Of course, being a nine year old, she must have a wish list, yet when asked what she wanted this year she said, “I want poor families to get some money and have a home and have a better life.”
“She likes Santa Claus and wants to believe in Santa Claus.” – Laurelie Mufute
“I guess she wants to help people,” she said, and though already has some experience, she is a little nervous about having to perform a preview of the play at Macy’s store in Newport Mall on Dec. 6.
The school was one of hundreds of schools that had applied for funds from Macy’s to put together this production.
“Yes, Virginia The Musical” was first introduced last year as part of the Macy’s Believe campaign and offers an opportunity for eligible grammar or high schools to receive a $1,000 grant to help fund their production.
Based on the true story of eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who wrote a letter to the New York Sun newspaper in 1897, inquiring about the existence of Santa Claus, this original production was created and produced by Macy’s and JWT in conjunction with The Ebeling Group and MEC Entertainment, a division of Mediaedge:cia.
“We are proud to be the recipient of funds raised through Macy’s Believe campaign because it helps us grant wishes for children in New Jersey with life-threatening illnesses,” said Tom Weatherall, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish New Jersey. “We are tremendously grateful to collaborate with Conwell PS No. 3 in their efforts to promote this campaign within all of Jersey City’s public schools, and applaud them for their wonderful efforts to give back during this holiday season. Few things humble us more representing this powerful mission than witnessing kids helping kids. Wow!”
The musical is a collaboration with Make-A-Wish New Jersey – a non-profit organization that grants the wishes of children with life threatening medical conditions, and the Jersey City students are vowing to raise raise $20,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation through a letter writing campaign.
Gearing up early for letter writing campaign
Starting Nov. 8, the Conwell School began to host a mailbox for over 28,000 Jersey City Public School children to drop-off a letter to Santa to help raise funds for Make-A-Wish.
The letter-writing project was inspired by Macy’s Believe, a nationwide campaign to raise money for Make-A-Wish. For every letter Macy’s receives, the retailer will donate one dollar to Make-A-Wish, an international non-profit organization that grants the wishes of children between the ages of two and a half and 18 with life-threatening medical conditions.
The performance allows CKDP an opportunity to expand the letter-writing project citywide, and has been promoted directly to parents as an afterschool family exercise that will allow children to hone their language arts skills and build their social awareness.
The school had a good reason for getting involved with the musical. One of their own had recently benefited from the Make-A-Wish New Jersey program.
With the official sponsorship of both Macy’s and Make-A-Wish NJ , the school created its own red letter mailboxes well as distributed the mailbox to local corporations in an effort to collect 10,000 letters to Make-A-Wish NJ.
“The Conwell Drama Program continues to find ways to re-invent itself…through this Make-A-Wish initiative, we can show our students the powerful impact the arts have on raising social awareness. The CKDP has grown to a point where we are now in a position to give back on a grand scale and I am excited by that,” said Nicole Oliver, founder and director of CKDP.
To kick-off the letter-writing fundraiser, the Conwell Kidz Drama Program presented a live, sneak-preview performance of “Yes, Virginia The Musical” at the Macy’s store at the Newport Mall in Jersey City on Friday, Dec. 6, which was National Believe Day. For every letter Macy’s received on this day nationwide, the retailer will provide twice the normal dollar match with a $2 donation to Make-A-Wish.
Bringing her theater experience to the school
Oliver, a drama specialist for the Jersey City district who helped found CKDP in 2004, is director of the musical, and was involved with theater prior to becoming a drama specialist for the Jersey City school district.
“I studied theater in college and worked in theater for about ten years,” she said, but gravitated towards teaching. “I tend to enjoy that more”
At that point, she heard that the Jersey City School District was staring a drama program and she applied.
“This is a curriculum based program,” she said. Students involved meet state core curriculum standards.
Oliver has produced and directed more than 20 productions since the program began including “Cinderella”, “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” CKDP’s mission is to encourage students through creative expression to develop an appreciation for the arts while fostering excellence in all subject areas. CKDP was named runner-up in the Disney Planet Challenge for the film “Mission T.O.R.C.H”, an independent film produced by CKDP students. The group has also performed regionally at Tempest Productions, Debaun Center for the Arts, and the Nimbus Dance Company.
“Every year we raise the bar a little,” Oliver said.
This production has about 50 kids with students from third, fourth and fifth grades. The show runs for about an hour.
She said working with the kids is like working with trained actors.
“I treat them that way,” she said. “Everything uses theater terminology. They are very intuitive.”
The full-scale performance of The Conwell Kidz Drama Program’s production of “Yes, Virginia The Musical” will run Dec. 18 and 19 at the Frank R. Conwell PS 3 theatre located at 111 Bright St. in Jersey City.
For ticket information, contact the school office at (201) 915-6100.
Children and families wishing to deposit Santa letters for Make-A-Wish can continue to do so throughout the holiday season at any Macy’s location or in the red letter box located in the lobby at the Frank R. Conwell Primary School 3.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.