Every Thanksgiving weekend for the past 17 years, The Heart of Christmas Show has ushered in the Christmas season. For the audience, it’s a weekend of high-quality entertainment, laughs, heartfelt moments and warm fuzzies that set hearts right for the holidays. For the cast and their families, it is the culmination of three months of grueling rehearsals and pulling together to put together everything they have into this show, which celebrates everyone’s favorite things about the holidays. Then, after the show is over, they give all the money away to help sick and abused children in the community – more than $620,000 to date. This year, the 18th annual Heart of Christmas Show is onstage at the Crown Nov. 26 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Nov. 27 at 3 p.m.
The performance features Voices of the Heart, a local teenage Christian vocal group, joined by a cast of 32 singers and dancers. Laura Stevens is the show’s creator and director. “There was only supposed to be one show,” she said, “but here we are 18 years later.”
Putting on a production this big every year takes a lot of work and dedication from the cast and their families. “It is amazing to me how everyone pulls together. Parents are sewing sequins on costumes and running out for supplies – just doing whatever it takes to get things done,” said Stevens. “And the cast works so hard. They give up every Saturday for three months to be in this production. Our practices start right after Labor Day.”
But in the end, when the audience is engaged and reacts to the vignettes, when the funds are disbursed to help local children, all that hard work and hours of practice are worth it. “There are segments that have become as traditional as Christmas cookies,” said Stevens. “People come to the show to be inspired. At Christmas time, everyone has their favorites - their favorite song, favorite recipe, favorite traditions etc. At The Heart of Christmas Show, there are only so many favorites, but people want to hear them every year. And those scenes will always be a part of the production – like the manger scene.”
But still, Stevens tries hard to balance the audience favorites with new pieces. It keeps things fresh and interesting. This year, she says, there are some big changes; quite a few of them, in fact. “The first half of the show, we have fun with the secular songs and find new and different ways to spin some of the classics,” said Stevens. “For example, this year ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ is one of the songs. We are doing two versions. For the school shows, we will have a lot of Disney characters on stage for them. On the weekend shows, there is a twist on it. The segment is about a Hummer. As she pulls the salesman out of the car, she shoves him away and strokes the car. It is full of stuff like that. Funny takes on familiar songs.”
The second half of the show focuses on the Christmas story. “Our manger scene segment is a very special segment. It portrays the Christmas story in song and dance. It shows what the meaning of Christmas is - the birth of Christ. We take it from the beginning to the birth,” said Stevens. “For the last 10 years, we’ve had a live baby every year. You can hear the audience whispering when they see the feet go up in the manger and start wiggling. From the starry night to the birth and celebration of the birth, the manger scene stays intact because people don’t want me to change it. I think it is special.”
After that, the show moves to a message of brotherhood, which Stevens sees as an important part of the show. This year features a new song called “We Are Christmas.” “We partnered with Spellman College, an all-black college, on this. It speaks volumes. We are to extend love not hate to fellow man,” said Stevens. “We have a real strong brotherhood message this year.”
Keeping a show fresh year after year for almost two decades is a tall order, but it’s one Stevens is happy to take on. She says she finds inspiration just about everywhere. Sometimes it’s the songs themselves that provide insight into what a skit should be. Other times it’s an experience or a memory. “The Heart of Christmas Show has a lot of original arrangements in it, and it is all done with youth performers,” said Stevens. “This year was a tough year with the hurricane, the election and all the other yucky stuff that has gone on in our world. This is a year to see The Heart of Christmas Show. You will understand the heart behind the show. This is a group with a goal to raise money for sick and abused children.”
It’s more than dedicated performers and a loyal audience that make this show possible, though. Stevens noted that without support from the community, The Heart of Christmas Show just could not happen. “We are blessed to have so many supporters. From businesses to individuals, we could not do it without their support,” she said.
The Heart of Christmas Show takes place at the Crown on Sat., Nov. 26 and Sun., Nov. 27. Find out more at http://www.heartofchristmasshow.com or call 910-978-1119..