Holiday favorite on stage

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:27

    Many locals in cast and crew for 'Amahl and the Night Visitors' Sussex — Barbara Smith-Davis of Vernon is directing the Cornerstone Playhouse production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Smith-Davis brings years of performance and directing credits and has performed opera all over the world. She most recently toured with Marie Osmond as the Mother Abyss in “The Sound of Music.” Michael Gillespie and Eugene Steficek, also of Vernon, will be appearing as two of the kings — Melchior and Kaspar. Gillespie is no stranger to the Cornerstone stage and has not only performed in many leads including Bill in “Me and my Girl” but is also a frequent director and choreographer. Sparta resident Laura Franc is starring as the mother in this production. Franc is making her Cornerstone debut in this holiday classic and brings the depth of this dramatic role to life. She is a teacher of world languages at Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta, teaching both French and Arabic. Her other passion is music: she has a wide range of taste in music and a range of experiences to match. This includes helping to lead the contemporary Christian music of the Crossroads band at Blessed Kateri parish in Sparta, and as one of the lead singers for the classic rock band, Equinox. As for classical music, she sang a minor role in Michael Kosch’s premiere of “The Elementary Principles” at the Here Theater in New York in 2002. She began her classical singing experience with Opera Sacra in Buffalo, N.Y., in choral roles for Camille Saint-Saen’s “Samson and Delilah,” for Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida,” in Maurice Ravel’s “L’enfant et les sortilèges” (The Child and the Enchantments) and in two of Gian Carlo Menotti’s operas, including “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” This is where she first fell in love with the spell-binding music that conveys the story of the poor boy and his mother who are visited by the three kings on their way to find the Christ child. For years, the only venue for singing the role of the mother was in her living room and kitchen, with the role of Amahl played by her own son, and just for fun. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to sing this role in Cornerstone’s production. As for her own handicapped child, she still strains to hear the far-off chorus of the Kings as they approach on a winter’s night, bringing the hope of healing and renewal as only this story can do. The cast is rounded out by Zachary McIntyre of West Milford as Amahl, Michael Gillespie of Vernon as Melchior, Eugene Steficek ofVernon as Kaspar and David McDonald of Lake Hopatcong as Balthazar. The cast is rounded out by Zachary McIntyre of West Milford as Amahl. Laura Franc of Sparta as the mother, and David McDonald of Lake Hopatcong as Balthazar. About the show “Amahl and the Night Visitors” was written by Gian Carlo Minotti in 1951 for a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation and has been a holiday favorite for families ever since. The story is about Amahl, a poor, disabled shepherd boy, and his mother, who are visited by the Three Kings on their journey to see the Christ Child. The Kings, Balthazar, Melchior and Kaspar, spend the night during which the mother tries to steal some of the Kings' gold. However, she is caught in the act and when she tries to return the gold, the Kings tell her to keep it because the Child will rule his kingdom with love, not gold. This so inspires Amahl and his mother that they, too, wish to give something to the Christ Child. Amahl offers his only possession, his crutch. Lo and behold, suddenly, he is able to walk. He then decides to follow the Kings so that he may present his gift in person. “Amahl and the Night Visitors” was the first opera written for television and has become the most frequently performed opera of all time since it was first broadcast in 1951, with over 500 performances annually, world-wide. Portions of the work are often performed separately, particularly the Introduction, the March of the Kings, and the lively Shepherd's Dance. In addition to director Barbara Smith-Davis of Vernon, musical direction is by Lou Fifer of Hasbrouck Heights. This directing team brings out all the charm of the original production and is a delightful way to introduce young family members to the world of opera. The opera is less than an hour in length and takes a poignant, dramatic and sometimes comical approach to this timeless tale of the journey of the three wise men to Bethlehem. If you go Cornerstone Playhouse in the historic Crescent Theater 74 Fountain Square Sussex Performances Fridays, Dec. 9 and Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. Saturdays, Dec. 10 and Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 11 and Jan. 8 at 3 p.m. Ticket prices: $18, adults; $13, senior/students. Group rates are also available. For reservations call 973-702-0687 or e-mail