sensitivity, creativity and humor, the Local United Network to
Combat Hunger put on a holiday show last Saturday that balanced
the joy of being young and carefree with the humanity of reaching
out to help others.
“A Mall and the Night Visitors,” held at Union Baptist Church
on Mystic's High Street, took a light-hearted view of Dorothy
Gale, Toto and their three companions' visit to Santa and the
Emerald City Mall.
Because several of the show's professional musicians and
singers traveled from out of state, performance night was the only
time that the cast of more than 45 children and adults worked
together, giving the community production a less-formal,
The annual holiday show is one of LUNCH's largest fund-raisers,
benefiting local hunger-relief services from ticket and
merchandise sales. Spiced with funny, poignant and original songs,
the message underlying the medium was that young people can use
the arts to meet social needs in the community.
To that end, at the interval between acts, LUNCH founder Bill
Pere presented a $500 check to Mystic Area Shelter and Hospitality
and to Stonington Human Services for their work to combat hunger.
Several homeless families attended the performance and met
ensemble members after the show.
Founded in 1989 by Pere, a Mystic resident and Connecticut
state troubadour, and his wife, Kay, as a community service
outreach division of Connecticut Songwriters Association, LUNCH
became an independent charitable organization in 1999. Late
songwriter Harry Chapin, who founded World Hunger Year and devoted
much of his music career to the fight against hunger, inspired
Pere to begin the ensemble, which includes more than 40 young
people in grades 4-12 from throughout Connecticut and Rhode
Chelsea Bateman, a Ledyard High School freshman who played the
Wicked Witch of the West, said she performs in ensemble
productions throughout the year and that she and her parents have
been in LUNCH productions for years.
“We go to Union Baptist Church, so I also think of LUNCH
ensemble as my community service,” she said before donning her
jade-green makeup and pointy black hat.
Warming up the crowd of more than 300 before the opening
number, several soloists sang and played seasonal favorites. The
pure, clear-voiced Nicole Sullivan sang “O Holy Night” and left
very few eyes dry in the house. Soon after, the audience was
dabbing tears of laughter from their eyes. Interactive fun
included gigantic Mylar vegetable balloons bopped around by the
audience, projectile vegetable snippets launched from the balcony
and a Pokemon/Pikachu on the lam down the nave.
Great glittering costumes, peppy group numbers such as “I Want
Candy,” and pace-changing all-cast ballads such as “Mingy Stingy”
kept folks wanting more. And they got it.
One of the funniest numbers of the evening was sung by Santa
himself. In song, Rich Maciag explained to lanky apprentices,
played by Parker Verhoeff and Clark Chapman, the secret to bulking
up for the job: the Santa Diet. While the Santa wannabes wailed on
their air guitars and magically inflated their plastic Claus
suits, Maciag belted out a side-splitting “Spandex Waistband,” a
parody of The Who's “Teenage Wasteland.”
“I wish I had started doing this when I was much younger,
making the community connection,” Maciag, a professional clown and
Ledyard resident, said before the performance. “But I'll be a
member of LUNCH ensemble until I can do this no longer. I just
can't fathom it. We don't realize what it would be like to be
cold, to be hungry. If tonight's performance can help feed one
person, that's what it's all about.”
At the intermission, Pere strummed his 12-string guitar and
told the audience that Connecticut is first of the states in
income, but 44th in giving. He then related how his mother
occasionally fed hungry people in their New York City apartment.
Pere's final solo was “Crib in the Creche,” a song inspired by
his mother's practices and his own conversations at church
suppers. It captured the dual emotions of those helped with basic
I won't last this night if I don't get inside
Three days with nothing to eat, and I don't know how long
Since I swallowed my pride