SUSSEX, NJ – “It is better to light one little candle than to stumble in the dark,” sang a group of gentle children’s voices.
So began the evening called “Songs for Sandy Hook,” at the Cornerstone Playhouse in Sussex on Friday and Saturday evenings, January 18 and 19.
The program was inspired by Kevin Kane, and evolved through Facebook, as friends and acquaintances responded to his idea to “do something” to respond to the recent tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Tonight is a night to turn off the news and enjoy the gift of time with one another. Tonight is a night to share our gifts with each other, and be grateful for everything we have, do, and are,” wrote Kane to his audience, on the program.
“Twenty six paper bag luminaries outline the stage to honor the twenty six new stars in heaven,” announced Kane at the beginning of the show.
The curtain displayed a large green symbol, now commonly recognized as support, which also is on display at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Each of the performers also wore the ribbon on their lapel. There were many pictures on display as well, drawn by the children, to break up the black of the curtain.
Kane inspired some of his theater acquaintances, with whom he had grown out of touch, to respond to his Facebook invitation, including Frank Todisco, who resides in Oak Ridge, Tom Hallett, Debbie Nannery, and Margaret Witt, all from Newton, and Natasha Goldberg from Hamburg to join the program. In turn, Witt, Todisco, and Kane’s children enthusiastically joined the production. Charity Dolan, from Lincoln Park, volunteered to accompany on piano, while her daughter also joined the performance.
Kane relayed the experience of trying to explain to his three children what happened in Newtown, before they heard it on the news.
“My wife and I decided we wanted them to hear about it from their mom and dad," he said. "We all sat down and told them, ‘something bad happened in Connecticut, but you are safe here.’"
Once Kane came up with his idea for the program, the children wanted to be included.
Throughout the evening, the audience was reminded of how fragile life can be, how important it is to keep dreams alive, and how each person can bring light to the world. Through familiar songs and touching lyrics soulfully sung, the 12 member cast (six adults, six children) brought to life on the stage the love between mother and child, brothers and sisters, patriots and country. There were renditions from "Les Miserables," "Pete’s Dragon," "Jacques Briel is Alive and Living in Paris," and other shows.
Just before intermission, Kane told the audience, “When I was a boy, if I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say, 'Look for the helpers.'”
He then invited all community helpers present, including police, fire fighters, EMT’s, nurses, and teachers onto the stage to join in singing “God Bless the USA” with the cast. Several of the audience responded. Jeannie Van Auken, a nurse at Saint Clare’s in Dover and Denville, was one.
“I know a few of the cast, plus I wanted to help out,” she said.
Kane expressed much gratitude to Michael Gillespie, one of the principals of Cornerstone Playhouse.
"He [Kane] put on Facebook, anyone who has anything to offer, please contact him. I asked if he had a venue, then offered the theater,” said Gillespie.
Kane said that Cornerstone Playhouse treasurer Bob Hollowach was one of the main supporters as well.
The money raised through the $15 each donation will be sent to the United Way of Western Connecticut, which has promised not to use any funds for administrative costs. The money will help the town rebuild, through support services, to refurbish the school from the damage done, and to help with special costs that might be incurred by families. According to Kane, the fund has nearly $6 million to date.
The evening closed with a quote from Albert Schweitzer, followed by the song “You are the Light of the World,” from Godspell.
Kane recited, “At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by the spark of another person. Each of us has cause to think with great appreciation of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
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