WOOD RIVER JCT. — Rehearsals for this year’s holiday production, “Miracle on 34th Street,” were in full swing Tuesday in the Chariho Middle School auditorium.
Twenty-four members of the Chariho High School Theatre Company were running through scenes, accompanied by six elementary students including seven-year-old Emily LaFountain. A student at Hope Valley Elementary School, LaFountain has an important role in the department store Santa Claus scene.
“I sit on Santa’s lap and I tell him what I want for Christmas,” she said.
Emily’s mother Johanna, a teacher at the high school, said performing in a play for the first time had boosted her daughter’s self confidence.
“I’m so happy to see her come out of her shell and work with the older kids, because she’s the youngest one here,” she said. “I was a little worried about that. She’s only in first grade. But the teenagers and the kids in the show are so welcoming.”
Set in New York City in the 1940s, “Miracle on 34th Street” is a classic holiday story about an old man who is asked to fill in for an intoxicated Macy’s department store Santa Claus. The old man, who calls himself Kris Kringle, then claims to be the real Santa Claus, which leads to a court case to determine whether his claim is true.
English teacher Rebecca Burns, who directs the play, said she had selected “Miracle on 34th Street” with fellow English teacher, Erin Hall.
“We were looking at different holiday shows,” she said. “Those are always popular and fun to work on, and we saw that ‘Miracle’ was a play, and I never knew it was a play. I grew up watching the movie and I know it’s a family favorite, so we thought it would be a fun one to put up on stage.”
Veteran Chariho actor Avery Moody plays Kris Kringle. Moody, who will be graduating this year, said he was focused on the play and not dwelling on his departure in the spring.
“I’ve been so focused on the play and I love what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s always a great experience. I’m sure it’ll set in once the play is over.”
Moody credited Burns with once again choosing the right play for the company.
“She always manages to find a show that not only is great for the talent that we have, but we know the community is going to enjoy,” he said.
Sarah LaBrosse, who plays Macy’s special events director, Doris Walker, said she was enjoying her role in this year’s production. LaBrosse was the narrator of A Christmas Carol last year.
“It’s been fun for me to explore the acting part of it, because in the past, I haven’t really had roles where I had the opportunity to discover that side of acting,” she said. “So it’s been interesting.”
Noah Liguori-Bills is in his first-ever production, playing attorney Fred Gayley.
“I love the whole process. I love everything about it, the play and just acting in general” he said. “It took some getting used to but I’m in my role now.”
Like Liguori-Bills, Stephen Palermo is new to the theatre. Acting, he said, was something he had to work up to.
“I’ve always wanted to do drama, ever since my freshman year, but I’ve never had the self-confidence,” he said. “I’ve always been very socially anxious, but now that I’m doing it, it’s opened a lot of doors and a lot of people have given me gratitude for it. Drama is like a second family to me. I feel safe here.”
This year’s show is the most collaborative yet. David Hayes, whose daughter Melissa graduated last year, continues to build the sets for Chariho productions.
“This show involves so many different aspects of the Chariho community,” Burns said. “We have Chariho Vocal Select as the carolers, we have Chariho Tech cosmetology helping with Santa’s beard, we have younger siblings and elementary school students in the play and writing Santa letters to be featured in a nice surprise towards the end of the show, so we’ve involved the entire community.”
“Miracle on 34th Street” will be presented in the Chariho Middle School auditorium on Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 and $5 for students and seniors, and can be purchased at the door.