W.T. Woodson High School senior Matt Savoca was riding the bus home from a chorus trip when he first conceived what has now blossomed into a completely student-run, -directed and -choreographed production. Complete with 18 performers, a full pit and a constantly growing technical crew, “Pippin the Musical” is the latest fundraising expenditure being sponsored by Young Hearts (YH), a local organization which raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“I really wanted to try my hand at directing and when the idea came about that I could do it for a good cause, it was just a no brainer,” said Director Matt Savoca, who’s been active in YH for four years. “The only place where I could think of making this happen was through Young Hearts.”
Founded in 2000, YH was started in honor of Ryan McLaughlin, who lost his life at age 13 after a two year battle with a rare form of leukemia known as t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“As Ryan’s mother, I am moved by the giving nature and dedication of these kids. I feel as if each of them has become a part of our extended family,” said Prince McLaughlin. “Knowingly or unknowingly, they continue to help our family through the long journey of healing.”
Teens active in YH have risen over $220,000 in proceeds gathered from golf tournaments, car washes and a recent “Battle of the Bands” competition. Notably, they raised $41,000 during last fall’s Light the Night Walk in Washington, D.C.
“It’s cool because we’re always looking for new ways to fundraise. Ideas like ‘Battle of the Bands’ and ‘Pippin’ bring out amazing young talent and more people get to hear what Young Hearts is all about,” said senior and technical director Margaret Gertzog.
“Pippin,” modeled after the Broadway Musical originally directed by Bob Fosse in 1972, is based on Roger O. Hirson’s novel, which tells the fictitious story of the life of Pippin the hunchback. While the cast and crew are fully comprised of Woodson High students, the musical is in no way affiliated with the school, making it a voluntary workload separate from academic stressors. Full-time students, they still manage to give it their all onstage amid college applications, schoolwork and extracurricular activities following last October’s auditions.
“Every one of these kids, including myself, is doing so much other stuff, on top of this production, as high school students. Most of these actors had to learn their lines and dances on their own,” said Gertzog. “We don’t have time for brush-up rehearsals.”
Five-year YH veteran Lauren Lukow, a sophomore, has been dancing most of her life and has offered her time, in addition to co-choreographer and leading player junior Luke Savoca, to teach dance moves to her peers from all skill levels.
“Besides having to tailor Bob Fosse’s distinct choreography style to our needs, these dances must supply the needs of all characters. We have experienced dancers and not so experienced dancers and my job is to make the show look good, so both have been a challenge,” said Lukow.
When asked what they wanted to see opening night, faces aglow with optimism blurted answers like “friends and family,” “faces of all ages” and “a successful show.” Lukow and others verbalized hopes that audience members express further interest in what YH is all about.
“After the show opening night, I want to see people come up to me and tell me ‘I want to join the Young Hearts because this show was so good and I can see how much work you’ve put into this,” said Lukow.
Lukow’s dreams may be coming true sooner than she might have thought. Some students involved in “Pippin” learned about YH for the first time while auditioning and have been struck with curiosity ever since.
“This is my first time doing Young Hearts. I came out to audition because I thought it would be interesting to just try out,” said sophomore Emily Manno. “I’ve heard of them before at school and never really got into it, but now I definitely want to get on board.”
Due to renovations at Woodson, Frost Middle School has opened their cafeteria stage after hours for rehearsals and the February performances. Students will continue to rehearse until opening night Friday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m., with encores to be performed Saturday, Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students. All proceeds from ticket sales for “Pippin” will go to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.