uac111010001.jpg Early one recent Saturday morning, four teen-aged girls stretched out on the stage of the Westover High School Auditorium. In the darkened room, they chatted about every day things near and dear to the heart of teenagers: boys, football and dresses.

In the relaxed environment, they listened to their teacher/ mentor Laura Stevens talk excitedly about the upcoming Heart of Christmas Show featuring the girls — Hannah Godbold, 15; Mandy Hawley, 16; Rachel Crenshaw, 15; Katelyn Godbold, 14; and Hannah Pritchard, 12 — who are collectively know as Voices of the Heart.

“This is an incredible group of girls,” said Stevens, who has been directing the show that is slated for Saturday, Nov. 27 and Sunday, Nov. 28 at the Crown Theatre. “They’ve been performing together as a team for the past two years, and that helps make it a solid show. They sing so well together. It’s really a landmark for us this year. We have had a lot of great Voices of the Heart over the years, but this one has a particularly great harmony, and they all have equal talent. Not only are they great singers, they are also great dancers.

“Gone are the days when you could be in Voices of the Heart and only sing,” continued Stevens. “You have to be able to dance as well. We have added a lyrical dance segment in our church concerts — a praise dance. Even the stiffest churches have embraced that with open arms. That’s such a heartbeat for me. I’ve always loved that. It took a long time to get to here. To be on that stage, you have to be able to perform, to express your passion on your face. When the lights come on, these girls have it all.”

What they bring to the stage creates the Christmas magic that Fayetteville residents have come to know and love.

“It is really a Fayetteville tradition,” said Stevens. “Since the show is on stage Thanksgiving weekend, it really is the kick-off to the Christmas season. Everyone enjoys lights and trees and how Christmas-y the show is. It truly captures the magic and splendor of Christmas.”

To keep the show fresh, Stevens adds new numbers every year, although the core of the show remains intact. She said this year they are pulling out all of the stops and are adding what she hopes will be real crowd pleasers.

One big addition is the staging of a live nativity scene, complete with donkeys and sheep, as the audience exits the building. Another addition is the performance of a Rockette-style number. “To see this one, you would have to go to New York,” said Stevens. “We really have worked on the ‘wow’ factor, and promise to deliver a fast-paced, two-hour production.”

At the end of the day, Stevens acknowledges the show wouldn’t make it without the support of community sponsors. “Every year they dig deep and set a little aside for us,” she acknowledged. “It costs more than $100,000 to stage the show, and they foot the bill. We couldn’t do it without them, and Fayetteville wouldn’t have such a great show without them.”

And the community’s children’s charities and schools would not benefi t without the support of the show’s sponsors and the community. Each year the show raises funds to feed back into the community. Charities like the Child Advocacy Center, the Fayetteville Autism Society and the Friends of Children at Cape Fear Valley receive generous donations from the show. Since its inception, more than a quarter of a million dollars has been put back into the community through the Heart of Christmas Show.

The schools have also benefi ted to the tune of $100,000. Stevens noted that this year the school shows have already sold-out.

“It’s great to be able to give that money back to the classroom teacher to let them buy whatever it is they need to be successful in their classroom,” said Stevens.

She added that the Heart of Christmas Show is about making a difference. It makes a difference in the lives of all of the talented youth who participate from the Voices of the Heart members to the dancers from Linda Kinlaw’s School of Dance. It makes a difference in the community through its charitable bent. And, maybe most importantly, it makes a difference in the lives of those who attend.

Stevens explained that this year the dance school was uncertain as to their participation because their dancers were so young. A morning visit to McDonald’s changed11-10-10-hoc-pic.gif everything.

“Michelle, who is one of the artistic directors at the school, was really not sure about bringing these young dancers to the show,” explained Stevens. “She went to McDonald’s for breakfast one morning and the lady working at the counter saw her Heart of Christmas T-shirt.”

The lady explained that she had attended the show the previous year. At the time, she was a resident in a substance abuse center for alcoholics.

“She said that after seeing the show, she got right with the Lord, got back in church and got her life back on track,” continued Stevens. “That was all Michelle needed to hear. That was her answer.”

If you want to enjoy the magic and majesty of Christmas, be sure to get your tickets. The Saturday show is at 7 p.m.; while the Sunday show is at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and can be purchased at the Crown Box Offi ce or Hawley’s Bicycle World. Tickets are $18 at the door. Tickets can also be purchased at all Ticketmaster outlets; however, convenience fees will apply.

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