Westerville North High School’s theatre department has created a family holiday experience for audiences with its winter production, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.”
Carolers will perform during the pre-show festivities and in the play. Elementary and middle school students — many of them younger siblings of the cast and crew — are part of the show, giving families a unique opportunity to have their kids together in a school production. And the play, students say, touches on themes people can relate to today.
“This show is a lot about how Christmas can be a tough time for some people,” said senior Chris Johnson, the show’s stage manager. “It’s bringing light to that and showing the positives that we can get from it. Christmas can still be a hard occasion for a lot of people and this show is how you can find the light in it and come together.”
The show runs at 7 p.m. Dec. 8-10 at WNHS’ auditorium. (Purchase tickets here.)
The play, which has been adapted as a film, television show and musical, tells the story of eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun. "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" is a line from the editorial response, which was initially printed unsigned. Publisher and editor Francis Pharcellus Church drafted the response and it wasn’t revealed until after his death in 1906.
“It’s a heartwarming true story which a lot of kids don’t know about,” WNHS theatre director Kim Mollohan said. “It’s a historical piece as well as a holiday piece.”
The production features a cast of 55, which includes a puppy and 16 elementary and middle school students. For the younger performers, the production gave them a chance to experience theater at the high-school level and follow in the footsteps of their older siblings.
“I always watched my brother in shows and thought it would be a ton of fun,” a Heritage Middle School student said. “It’s fun and all the high-schoolers get along really well with us.”
The production is a rare school production for siblings Chris, Abby and Victoria Johnson. Chris is a WNHS senior, Abby is a WNHS sophomore and Victoria is a Walnut Springs Middle School sixth-grader.
“This is the only time we’ll be able to do something together as a family that is school related so it’s been a really special experience,” Chris Johnson said.
Cast members said they hope audiences connect with the story, which touches on heavier topics.
“It definitely can be heart-wrenching at times but it’s a really great story and it really takes you on a journey,” said WNHS senior Jeffrey Siefker, who plays editor and publisher Frank P. Church.
Ultimately, the show’s themes are timeless, said WNHS sophomore Miles Lehman.
“It’s a high school play but it transcends beyond that,” he said. “Its message is so beautiful and it illustrates this wonderful story of characters and the conflicts of what life is but at the end of the day, there’s still a Christmas.”