'Yes, Virginia The Musica' at Waterbury Arts Magnet School

Nancy Sasso Janis

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist…”

Macy’s offered the script and score for ‘Yes, Virginia The Musical’ to any school free of charge this season so that theatre classes could easily present performances of this adorable musical for children. The Waterbury Arts Magnet School Theatre Production class taught by Nina A.Smith took advantage of this gift and will present three free performances this weekend in their drama classroom. Ms. Smith indicates in her director’s note that her class is dedicated to exploring all aspects that go into a theatrical endeavor and that three students make their debut onstage in this production that serves as the class’ midterm.  

‘Yes, Virginia’ was inspired by the true story of the eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who wrote a letter to the New York Sun newspaper in 1897 asking if Santa Claus really existed. The editor Francis P. Church responded with a heartwarming essay on the importance of believing and has become one of the most famous newspaper editorials ever written. The editorial serves as the inspiration for Macy’s “Believe” campaign, which supports Make a Wish which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this Christmas season. In 1996, the story of Virginia was adapted into an eponymous holiday musical by David Kirchenbaum (music and lyrics) and Myles McDonnel (book).The musical debuted as an animated special in 2009. 

The students in the Set Design classes transformed the classroom with line drawn scenery that sets the mood. The period costumes by Ms. Smith were perfectly wonderful for the late century era. Beautiful lighting by Brianna Stankiewicz made us forget that we were in a classroom and the recorded score worked perfectly. The students ran all aspects of the performance quite professionally. 

The student actors brought the story of young Virginia to life with wonderful dedication. The ensemble included Liliana Lopez, Nate Rivard, Danielle Lopez, Brianna Crespo, Kaitlyn-Jo Cocchiola, Myles LeBarre (What can’t this young man do?) and Rafael Rivera. Faculty member Sam Brown played a certain Jolly Gentleman in the final scene. 

Jessica Romaniello played the secretary to Mr. Church, who was played by the commanding Damel Roundtree. Julia Rocchio was simply perfect as the pampered Charlotte. Jessica Carraffo played Ollie and Amber Clavette did a very good job with her role as the librarian. 

The pivotal role of Virginia was played to perfection by Trinity Flores. A petite young lady with a powerhouse voice and plenty of charm, Ms. Flores gave a superb performance. The Scraggly Santa was embodied by WAMS senior Christian “CJ” Janis, who also helped out with the musical elements of the show. He nailed the comedic aspects of his character and sang and danced (!) wonderfully. Yes, I am his mom and I am extremely proud of his growth as an actor/singer/dancer, but the audience seemed to agree with me.

Almost stealing the show was the talented Ryan Rinaldi as Mrs. Whiskers, a feline sidekick to Ms. Rocchio. In a fur coat and face makeup, he meowed his way through her songs and was more adorable than any other onstage cat I have ever seen. 

Kudos to all of the theatre students involved in all aspects of this heartwarming production. I would say that everyone passed their midterm, but unfortunately, I am not their teacher. The two remaining free performances at WAMS are Friday, Dec. 11 at 6:00pm and Saturday, Dec. 12 at noon in the drama classroom located two floors above the Apron Stage (follow the signs.) The youngest audience members are invited to sit up front on rug squares and are encouraged to write a letter to drop off at the Santa Mail letterbox located in local Macy’s stores and at the Palace Theater lobby. Email the director at nsmith@waterbury.k12.ct.us to check availabililty.