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Performers Raise Voices for Hunger Relief:
Annual LUNCH holiday show brings tears of laughter, sadness

By Elizabeth Yerkes      12/9/2005

Mystic - With sensitivity, creativity and humor, the Local United Network to Combat Hunger put on a holiday show last Saturday that balanced the joy of being young and carefree with the humanity of reaching out to help others.

“A Mall and the Night Visitors,” held at Union Baptist Church on Mystic's High Street, took a light-hearted view of Dorothy Gale, Toto and their three companions' visit to Santa and the Emerald City Mall.

Because several of the show's professional musicians and singers traveled from out of state, performance night was the only time that the cast of more than 45 children and adults worked together, giving the community production a less-formal, from-the-heart sensibility.

The annual holiday show is one of LUNCH's largest fund-raisers, benefiting local hunger-relief services from ticket and merchandise sales. Spiced with funny, poignant and original songs, the message underlying the medium was that young people can use the arts to meet social needs in the community.

To that end, at the interval between acts, LUNCH founder Bill Pere presented a $500 check to Mystic Area Shelter and Hospitality and to Stonington Human Services for their work to combat hunger. Several homeless families attended the performance and met ensemble members after the show.

Founded in 1989 by Pere, a Mystic resident and Connecticut state troubadour, and his wife, Kay, as a community service outreach division of Connecticut Songwriters Association, LUNCH became an independent charitable organization in 1999. Late songwriter Harry Chapin, who founded World Hunger Year and devoted much of his music career to the fight against hunger, inspired Pere to begin the ensemble, which includes more than 40 young people in grades 4-12 from throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Chelsea Bateman, a Ledyard High School freshman who played the Wicked Witch of the West, said she performs in ensemble productions throughout the year and that she and her parents have been in LUNCH productions for years.

“We go to Union Baptist Church, so I also think of LUNCH ensemble as my community service,” she said before donning her jade-green makeup and pointy black hat.

Warming up the crowd of more than 300 before the opening number, several soloists sang and played seasonal favorites. The pure, clear-voiced Nicole Sullivan sang “O Holy Night” and left very few eyes dry in the house. Soon after, the audience was dabbing tears of laughter from their eyes. Interactive fun included gigantic Mylar vegetable balloons bopped around by the audience, projectile vegetable snippets launched from the balcony and a Pokemon/Pikachu on the lam down the nave.

Great glittering costumes, peppy group numbers such as “I Want Candy,” and pace-changing all-cast ballads such as “Mingy Stingy” kept folks wanting more. And they got it.

One of the funniest numbers of the evening was sung by Santa himself. In song, Rich Maciag explained to lanky apprentices, played by Parker Verhoeff and Clark Chapman, the secret to bulking up for the job: the Santa Diet. While the Santa wannabes wailed on their air guitars and magically inflated their plastic Claus suits, Maciag belted out a side-splitting “Spandex Waistband,” a parody of The Who's “Teenage Wasteland.”

“I wish I had started doing this when I was much younger, making the community connection,” Maciag, a professional clown and Ledyard resident, said before the performance. “But I'll be a member of LUNCH ensemble until I can do this no longer. I just can't fathom it. We don't realize what it would be like to be cold, to be hungry. If tonight's performance can help feed one person, that's what it's all about.”

At the intermission, Pere strummed his 12-string guitar and told the audience that Connecticut is first of the states in income, but 44th in giving. He then related how his mother occasionally fed hungry people in their New York City apartment.

Pere's final solo was “Crib in the Creche,” a song inspired by his mother's practices and his own conversations at church suppers. It captured the dual emotions of those helped with basic sustenance:

I won't last this night if I don't get inside
Three days with nothing to eat, and I don't know how long
Since I swallowed my pride

Originally Published December 2005, The Mystic Times

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