Written by Mary Beth Peabody
An out-of-towner might have mistaken it for Broadway. Under the flashing marquee, more than 700 theatergoers poured into Vineland’s iconic Landis Theater for the Bishop Schad Regional School production of “Miracle on Bethlehem Street” on Dec. 14.
“We expected maybe 300 family members and our students. But people from the community came too. The people at the theater were amazed,” said school principal Sister Rosa Maria Ojeda. “The theater was packed.”
“It was a wonderful combination of faith, humor, music and dance in a truly Catholic manner by seamlessly incorporating various cultural expressions and traditions,” said Father Robert Hughes, Vicar General, who attended the show with Bishop Dennis Sullivan. “I was most impressed by the confidence of the children, who seemed so comfortable on stage,” he added.
With a volunteer production team and the support of school faculty and administration, 200 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students danced, sang and acted in a clever retelling of the Holy Family’s search for “a room at the inn.”
Seventh grader Sam DeCou played the role of Benjamin, the money-minded innkeeper whose vision of a luxury hotel with figs on every pillow and a valet service for camels does not include room for Mary and Joseph. But Benjamin’s wife, Rachel, has a premonition about the special nature of Mary’s baby and encourages her husband to make space for the humble family.
“The music is really good,” said Sam, who sang two solos in the show. A veteran member of the Bishop Schad drama club, Sam also attended a theater camp at the Landis last summer. “I will jump at any opportunity to do theater,” he said.
Riley Hudson, the seventh grader who played Rachel, is just as enthusiastic. “[With theater] you get to play another person, be someone different, see things from another point of view,” she said.
An active drama club member since she came to Bishop Schad in fifth grade, Riley said she was grateful for the opportunity to perform on the Landis stage instead of the school cafeteria, where “it’s hard to move around and things get knocked over.”
The production and venue represent all that is good in a community where people work together, support each other’s interests and share their love for a school.
Through city employee Carmen Valentin, the Landis offered its majestic space to the school in exchange for use of the school parking lot during theater events. Angela Giacolone and Daniel Serra donated their time and talents to help with lights and sound. Valentin, Giacolone and Serra are all graduates of Sacred Heart School, happy to support Bishop Schad Regional School.
Volunteer director Carol Polaha, a Bishop Schad grandparent, attributed the show’s success to the school community.
“I love the school. The sisters have made it so special. Their influence has been wonderful,” she said, adding “the nuns even made the costumes.”
Sisters also decorated the stage with help from parent volunteers.
While Polaha worked with students on dialogue, school parent Mary Camardo coached the soloists, and music teacher John St. Clair worked on group songs. Third grade teacher Alyssa Santilli went into every classroom to choreograph a signature number for each grade. Drama club volunteer Kim Gagliardi supported the production as well.
“Every child was in it. Everyone performed beyond my expectations. They moved well, they sang. The children just came alive,” said Polaha.
Though not part of the “Miracle on Bethlehem Street” script, the evening ended with “A Mother’s Love is a Blessing,” a fitting tribute to Mary and Jesus and a personal favorite of Bishop Sullivan. Student Addison Vurganov performed the solo.
What’s next? The bright lights of the Landis may shine again on its neighbor across the street as Bishop Schad prepares for a spring show. For now, both school and theater celebrate the packed house and community spirit that brought “Miracle on Bethlehem Street” to life.
Bishop Schad Regional School is especially grateful to the Vineland Development Corp., City of Vineland, and Landis Theater Foundation who made it possible for their performance to take place at the Landis Theater.
Mary Beth Peabody is Communications and Marketing Manager, Office of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Camden.