Thursday's performance is being staged in memory of Andrew Russoniello of Somerset, a regular performer in the Villagers KidsVill program who died unexpectedly in August. He was 13. Andrew and his younger sister had participated last Christmas in a private performance of "Christmas Peter Pan" for disabled students through the theatre's My Name is Matthew program, and it was an experience he found deeply moving.
"I was surprised at the level of impact this had on him, and it was after this show that I thought that teaching or working with special needs kids was a possible career path of interest for him," said his mother, Emily Russoniello. "Heartbreakingly, we will never know."
Written by Kathryn Schultz Miller, “A Christmas Cinderella” gives Charles Perrault's classic fairy tale a Christmas twist. Cinderella still wearies herself slaving away daily for her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, but with a little Christmas magic, the pumpkin becomes a sleigh, the mice become reindeer, and the coachman is none other than Santa Claus himself.
In addition to the fund-raiser at 7:30 p.m., additional performances of "A Christmas Cinderella" remain scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, and noonSunday, Dec. 18.
The My Name is Matthew program provides developmentally disabled children from Hudson Milestones with the opportunity to see their own performance of live theater. This year's production of “A Christmas Cinderella” includes a reserved performance, closed to the general public, at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“Watching the cast interact with the Matthew program audience last year was an incredibly moving experience for us all,” said Russoniello. “When Villagers Theatre approached our family and said they wanted to do something special for Andrew, I felt immediately that it should be something that involved the Matthew program.”
A nonprofit community theatre located at 475 Demott Lane, Somerset, Villagers Theatre has been providing area theatre-goers with a Broadway experience for the cost of a movie ticket since 1960. Upcoming shows this season include the Civil Rights drama “Mountaintop,” about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the comedy musical “Altar Boyz”; and a spring children's show, “Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr.”
Programs are made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, and administered by the Somerset County Cultural & Heritage Commission through the State/County Partnership Local Arts Program.
For more information, call Villagers Theatre at (732) 873-2710.