By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — The Pope John Players annual benefit show always puts a smile on Jacki Burt’s face, and it’s not because she has an opportunity to have the group perform again.
Rather, it’s because the Pope John theatre group’s director gets to see all of the past and present members of the group reunite for a night of fun, happiness, caring, honoring and reminiscing.
“As much as I love directing the shows and the shows themselves, this for me is so exciting,” Burt said. “It forces me to abandon my dictatorial personality for a little bit and it just lets me talk to everyone, especially the alums, see how everyone is doing, hear about what they have done and how theatre has helped them along the way.”
On Monday night, the Pope John Players will present its benefit, “Stomp Out Hunger!” at Pope John XXIII Regional High School. The benefit will start at 7:30 p.m. and it will feature an evening of song and dance numbers performed by current and alumni members of the state champion group.
The current Pope John Players will be performing selections from state and county championship numbers such as “Bring It On”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.
Pope John Players senior members Margaret Butler, Robert Kerwick and Adriana Purcell are excited to not only perform at the benefit one last time before they graduate, but also get to see past members of the group who have helped build the performing arts program into what it is today.
“This is a beautiful and emotional event,” Butler said. “You have all these great folks coming back, you have the current students performing and you get to see the best performances that have come through the program. It’s phenomenal to show our legacy.”
“It’s a great tradition,” Kerwick said. “It’s interesting to see all of the people who come back. It shows how deeply rooted the Pope John Players are and how much they care about it.”
“This is a really cool event,” Purcell said. “When I first went to the benefit as a freshman, I saw all these great people who have come through the program and I was like, ‘Wow! They are so good! I want to be like them one day!’ Without them, we wouldn’t have the state titles or the professionalism that is expected of us when we perform our shows. It brings a lot of unity to our group and our school.”
Among the featured guests who will be performing are 1999 graduate Jonathan Scott and Cara Cooper. Scott and Cooper will each perform a solo and they will also perform with current Pope John Players.
In addition to their performances, Scott and Cooper will each be honored at the event.
Scott will receive the International Thespian Society Chapter Alumni Honor award after becoming a professional baritone who has performed all over the world since graduating from Pope John.
He is a member of the Metropolitan Opera Men’s Extra Chorus, with whom he has won a Grammy for Best Opera Recording in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” in 2013. Scott has also played the roles of legendary characters, including Gianni Schicchi in the self-titled one-act opera at the 2017 Narnia Festival in Italy, and has sung in many of New York’s most famous concert venues such as Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and the Riverside Church.
Cooper will receive the third annual Pope John Players Distinguished Contribution to Youth in Theatre award for her work with children and Broadway Baby Mamas, a group dedicated to assisting the children of Broadway actresses. Cooper was the female lead in Broadway’s “Jersey Boys”, “The Wedding Singer”, and “All Shook Up”.
“To have Jonathan and Cara being honored and present here together is the embodiment of just incredible talent for our kids to look up to,” Burt said.
Along with the performances and honors ceremony, the benefit will raise proceeds to benefit the Sussex County Food Pantry, an organization that helps those who are dealing with hunger on a daily basis. The suggested donation is $5 at the door and canned food donations are welcome.
“This is a time of year when people don’t really think about the needs of our county for food as much as they do at Thanksgiving,” Burt said. “That’s something we are committed to year-round and we are so happy that we will be helping the Sussex County Food Pantry.”
So, as the countdown to the benefit continues, Burt’s excitement will continue to grow. After all, it is a family reunion of sorts.
“What’s great about this is everyone is invited back and the alums and current members get to meet each other,” Burt said. “It’s an emotional night for me.”