Thanksgiving weekend, The Heart of Christmas Show will bring a spectacularly choreographed and elaborately costumed show to the Crown Coliseum. The show has one goal: giving fayetteville children a platform to use their singing and dancing talents to raise funds for other local children in need. Showtimes are Nov. 25 at 1 and 7 p.m. and Nov. 26 at 3 p.m.
Fayetteville native Laura Stevens, creator of The HOC Show, said the show’s 19-years-and-counting popularity came as a surprise; it was never intended to be more than a one-time event. It started when Stevens, who gives vocal performance lessons out of her home, decided to take a group of her students to the Great American Gospel Fest in 1999 at Alabama Theatre in Myrtle Beach. “I just wanted them to be able to have other experiences vocally and performing-wise,” she said.
The girls performed under the moniker Voices of the Heart. They had only existed as a group for one year. It was their first time at a competition, and they were the first group to push the envelope by performing gospel music with choreography. Out of 267 acts from all over the U.S., they won first place in the nationally televised event.
Though Voices of the Heart has not returned to any competitions since – Stevens said that’s not the group’s purpose – that win did encourage her to view the show as a legitimate offering the
Fayetteville community could enjoy.
“Now let’s turn and do something good with this,” she remembers telling her girls. She decided to put the show on at the Crown as a fundraiser in which 100 percent of the proceeds would benefit local organizations that work with children. “I never intended for it to go on this long – never – but it has because the response was so great,” she said. “The first time we gave away Money, it was only $8,000. ... Well, that’s a totally different story today.”
To date, The HOC Show has raised over $700,000 and donated all of it to organizations like Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation’s Friends of Children, the Child Advocacy Center, the Autism Society of Cumberland County, Agape Pregnancy Support Services, Falcon Children’s Home and Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina.
Though homegrown in the truest sense of the word, The HOC Show boasts the quality and professionalism of a big-city production. It’s one of the best-attended shows at the Crown every year, and it’s got costume, prop and scene changes that put it on par with New York City’s Rockettes. Voices of the Heart, which today is comprised of five girls, is joined onstage for over 30 acts put on by 36 performers ages 6 to 18. These 36 performers include, in addition to Stevens’ vocal performance students, dancers from Elite Dance Center.
“Seriously, I have people from New York stop by and say, ‘I haven’t seen a show in New York like this. This is amazing,’” Stevens said. “We have just raised ourselves up right here in little ole’ Fayetteville. We have people come in from Virginia, Florida, Myrtle Beach, Raleigh – from all over.”
Some acts, like the manger scene in the second half of the show, are too special and important to ever be changed much, Stevens said. But she does implement at least a few new songs each year, and this year’s show has been significantly updated with never-before-seen numbers.
New acts include a segment from “Elf: The Musical,” a ’50s-themed holiday medley, a performance of “Light a Candle,” new quartet and quintet songs, an adorable rendition of “I Want a
Hippopotamus for Christmas” from the younger cast members and a finale based on the Rascal Flatts version of “Joy to the World.” Also new in the second half is a number that explores the
way the virgin Mary must have felt when she first found out she was pregnant.
“The song shows her turmoil and her coming to an understanding that God was with her every step of the way,” Stevens said. “The way it’s going to come across is just really, really beautiful.”
Stevens said one of the best and most common comments she hears from audience members is that during the show they forget, and afterward can’t believe, that all the performers are so young. “W.C. Powers from Powers Swain Chevrolet said, ‘It’s CPR for Christmas,’” Stevens said.
“Come to The Heart of Christmas Show and get away for a few minutes. Remember what Christmas was like when you were young. ... That’s the magic of (the show). It will definitely take to you to a place about the real meaning of Christmas and the fun of Christmas and the joy and outreach. I don’t think there’s an element of Christmas that (the show) doesn’t touch.”
Perhaps it’s the way the Christmas spirit is at work behind the scenes that makes the performances shine so brightly. The school-aged performers sacrifice every Saturday from Labor Day until the show at the end of November – about two and a half months – to rehearse.
“The children understand that they’re raising money with their talents to help children who are not as fortunate,” Stevens said. “When you see them performing, you see this is a group of young
people who are energized about life and about what they’re doing. ... That’s going to carry them into adulthood, (the idea that) we’re here for each other, and this is something (they) can do at a very young age. I hope and pray ... they will always have that energy and passion to do something good for somebody else because they can and are willing to.”
Stevens’ backstage crew is comprised of parents who take a week off of work to help pull curtains, fix costumes, paint, build props and do hair.
“Who takes vacation time to work a show?” Stevens asked. “It’s strengthening bonds as all these families do this together. I don’t have people pulling the curtains who don’t care. Nobody’s getting paid.”
Also behind the scenes are the hundreds of local sponsors who make the purchase of costumes, props and the rented stage possible. “We are so lovingly supported by this community,” Stevens said. “They’re there every year because they love the show, even when their business is tight financially.”
The combination of local roots, altruistic motive and top-notch quality is what makes The Heart of Christmas Show an annual event to enjoy and take pride in for families in Cumberland County
“Support the show; come and see,” Stevens said. “Once you come once, you’re going to come again. ... This is Fayetteville’s own shown. Look at the outreach; this is a show Fayetteville can truly be proud of.”
Visit www.heartofchristmasshow.com to purchase tickets for The Heart of Christmas Show on Nov. 25 and 26.