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It may only be summer, but A Work of Heart is preparing to spread Christmas cheer! The theater production company recently announced “Elf” as their fall musical.

Based on the 2003 film of the same name, the musical tells the story of a man named Buddy who snuck into Santa’s gift bag as a baby. When Buddy discovers that he is a human, he journeys to New York City on a search for his birth father. Along the way, he falls in love, meets his family, and brings the joy of Christmas to the Big Apple!

“It’s one of my favorite musicals ever! It’s about love and happy things!” A Work of Heart founder Nicole Lippey said on why she and director Angelo DeFazio chose to produce this show. Lippey described the musical as a lovely breath of fresh air and a wonderful way to start the school year.

“Plus, Christmas is my favorite, as Buddy the elf would say,” Lippey added.

Virtual auditions for the show are Saturday September 11 from noon-3 p.m. Those who are interested are required to register at The age range for cast members are 5-15 years old.

Rehearsals for the musical are at The United Methodist Church in Madison, NJ. The show’s performance is on Sunday, November 20 at 4 p.m. at Ridgedale Middle School.

Information regarding auditions for A Work of Heart's production of "Elf"

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A Work of Heart Productions ended their weekend by presenting a show to supportive family members and friends on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

The stage at Ridgedale Middle School was set for a production of “High School Musical, Jr.” with a basketball net and lockers. Performers ages 5-14 sang and danced with pom poms and basketballs. The musical is based on the successful 2006 Disney Channel film starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.

The premise of the show is when a star athlete named Troy and a shy smart girl named Gabriella meet and end up attending the same high school. They share their passions for singing and inspire their classmates to step out of their comfort zones and cliques.

This performance came after two months of rehearsals, beginning with auditions on May 18 at the College of Saint Elizabeth. Director of the production, Angelo DeFazio, explained how he and co-director and founder Nicole Lippey chose this show. “For the age of the characters of the show, it is a modern classic for the age of the actors who are playing those roles,” he said.

Multiple pictures of children performing on stage formatted onto a page with a piano and silhouette of a basketball player
Images of rehearsals of "High School Musical, Jr." featured in A Work of Heart's digital program

One of the lead performers of the show, Cooper Kelly, 13, says that he feels a connection to his character Troy Bolton. “Doing this character is easy because I feel like we’re the same,” he said.

While Kelly’s character plays basketball, he plays lacrosse and track. This was his second musical with A Work of Heart after starring as the Beast in A Work of Heart’s production of Beauty and the Beast.

Another performer in this production was Savanna Mooney, 11, who portrayed Martha Cox, a brainiac that loves to dance. Mooney said that it feels great to be in a musical. She added that her favorite part of dancing on stage was performing with her friends.

Katie Holzer, 13, portrayed Ms. Darbus, the eccentric drama teacher of the cast of characters. Holzer said that her favorite song was “Bop to the Top” because it’s fun and upbeat.

Holzer reflected on her love for the show and the musical. “It was a really fun show. I’m so sad that it’s over,” she said.

Members of the audience viewed a digital program while waiting for the performance to start. This program was accessed through a barcode on the posters taped to the auditorium's doors. Pages of the program included a synopsis of the show and a list of cast members.

Other members of the production team include vocal director Charlotte Speck, stage manager Sophia Monte, and choreographers Griffin Gartlgruber and Hallie Lippey. Additional cast members were Madelyn Shanley, Liana Weakland, Matt Valenti, and Daniel Amalfitano.

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March 2, 2019 is a day I will never forget. It was the closing night of my high school’s spring musical, “Little Shop of Horrors”. I performed with some of my best friends in front of our loved ones. When the curtain closed, I felt the most unusual mixture of emotions. After that was the after party, where the seniors gave their speeches and said their goodbyes. As amazing as that experience was, what I will remember the most was when I was alone.

When the after party ended and people started to head home, I asked one of my friends to bring me onto the stage one last time. I sat there and looked into the empty auditorium and felt like watching what I thought was a closing chapter. At the time, I knew I was not continuing my acting career in college and choosing either communications or journalism as my major.

I never would have dreamed of performing in another musical, and at the time of the end of high school, it broke my heart. I spent the beginning of my time of college at Seton Hall focusing on learning journalism skills. I only sang in the shower and the car. When the year 2020 came along, I began searching for musicals to audition for, realizing how much I missed performing. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it took away any and every opportunity.

A girl sitting in a wheelchair performing onstage. She is wearing a read dress with a white poodle on the skirt. She is also wearing a white sweater, a white headband, and a blue neck scarf.
Victoria Rossi performing in her high school's production of "Bye Bye Birdie"

As the pandemic dragged along, I saw a post that in hindsight changed my life. In the summer of 2021, saw a clip of my friend Joe Moschella singing a song from “Legally Blonde” in rehearsal for an upcoming production of the musical. Little did I know how much seeing this show would impact me.

When I saw this show in Morristown, NJ, I discovered that one of my friends, Kaitlyn Huamani, was starring as Elle Woods. I hadn’t seen her in years because she moved away from our hometown of East Hanover, NJ to Gladstone, NJ. Then, she moved to California for college. I was ecstatic to see her perform. On top of all that, I discovered that the directors of the show were Angelo DeFazio and Nicole Lippey, who have both taught me so much about performing, especially singing.

When this show ended, I told Angelo how I wished I knew about this production and went on to say how much I have missed performed me. He encouraged me to audition for the next summer show, and I set my heart on it. I followed A Work of Heart’s Instagram account and wondered what the choice would be for the summer of 2022.

As time passed on, I faced challenges. I began my junior year of college, which came with fun memories, but much more struggles. This year started with mental health battles and doing a lot of reflecting on who I am. By the time it was my birthday, I felt joyful for the first time in weeks. The joy only increased when I saw another life changing Instagram post.

As I was looking on Instagram, I saw a post that made me gasp out loud. A Work of Heart announced that the next summer musical was “Grease”, which is not only my all time favorite movie, but also my dream musical! Seeing this post was a motivator to get through the rest of my semester.

When my semester ended and it was time for me to prepare for my auditions, which was something I had not done since 2018. Taking voice lessons felt like riding a bike. After a couple days and lots of practice, I felt so much more confident in myself and my singing voice.

When I arrived at Saint Elizabeth University, I felt like I was reuniting with family. It felt so nice to be with people that I have performed with before. After waiting anxiously for the email from Angelo and Nicole on what role I got, I was genuinely surprised. I learned that I had a solo for the first time ever! The solo I got was for the song “Raining on Prom Night”, which is a song that I loved when I saw another production of the musical by Angelo at my high school back when I was just 13 years old.

The rehearsal process was the least stressful it ever felt. I loved the creative freedom that Angelo gave to the cast. I found ways to adapt to the choreography of the show, and I slowly am working on my perspective of looking too different from the rest of the cast. I hope that next year will be just as fascinating of an experience.

Throughout the process of rehearsals, I had several mental health challenges. There were times where I could have stopped or gave up, but I am so happy that I didn’t because I have met so many incredible people. I spent time people who loved me for who I am, even when I felt like I didn’t love myself.

I will hold on to the memories of these last few months of rehearsals because they were some of the best moments not just of this year, but even since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. I wish nothing but joy for my cast mates as we approach tech week and I have nothing but gratitude for reviving my favorite hobby.

A group of young adults smiling and taking a selfie
Victoria making memories with her castmates (from left to right: Charlotte Vybihal, Morgan Vybihal, Sophia Monte, Erin Quinn, Victoria Rossi, Joe Moschella, Kaitlyn Huamani)

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