Tri-Village News

Does Santa Claus exist? Musical holds the answer


The story of a girl whose letter to a New York newspaper inspired a pop-culture phrase that endures more than a century later is the subject of a holiday production by the Imaginating Dramatics Company.

The Grandview-based children's theater company will present Yes, Virginia at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Grandview Heights Public Library, 1685 W. First Ave.

The play is adapted from a CGI-animated feature that Macy's and its advertising agency created for CBS in 2009. The animated feature was created in support of a partnership between Macy's and the Make-A-Wish Foundation established in 2008. The program Believe entails letters to Santa Claus collected at Macy's and financial donations from Macy's to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Believe, as well as the CBS animated program Yes, Virginia and the play, all are based on a letter that an 8-year-old girl named Virginia O' Hanlon wrote, at the suggestion of her father, in 1897 to the editor of the New York Sun.

Editor Francis Church's response to the girl's letter included the famous phrase, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Director Jill Eliot, founder of Imaginating Dramatics, recalls her mother sharing the story with her when her friends challenged her about the existence of Santa Claus.

"It made an impression on me and I still remember today," Eliot said.

While perusing theatrical websites, she saw a reference to a new play adapted from the CGI-animated production Yes, Virginia.

"When I saw it was a musical, I knew we had to do it," Eliot said.

William Schermerhorn and Wesley Whatley wrote the book, music and lyrics for the adaptation.

The live play centers on Church, the "crusty editor," who is "not charmed by anything," Eliot said.

"He's kind of like a Scrooge and at first disregards (Virginia's) letter, but he reads it again and decided to write a response," Eliot said.

Unlike some of the company's productions, children of all ages perform in Yes, Virginia.

Imaginating Dramatics provides classroom training and performances for children between the ages of 5-18 who are enrolled in public or private school districts in central Ohio.

Eliot, a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, has performed with the Prairie Players and Vaud-villities, and she teaches music and directs at Jones Middle School in Upper Arlington.

She founded Imaginating Dramatics in 1985. Her daughter, Ann Eliot-Naille, assists her with some activities, as does her husband, Don. Another daughter performs on stage in New York.

Starring as editor Frank Church in Yes, Virginia is Henry Rozenman of Hilliard. He is the son of Nancy Rozenman and the late Martin Rozenman, longtime editor of Suburban News Publications.

Other cast members are Josie Cantelmo, Viessa Cantelmo, Giovanna Cantelmo, Audra Naille, Amelia Naille and Penny Dow, all from Grandview Heights; Eliza and Gabriel Thomas from Clintonville; Corinne Dixon of Hilliard; and Hailey Wears, from the Hamilton Local School District.

Phyllis Newman is choreographer of Yes, Virginia.

The performance is free and open to the public, and is suitable for all ages.