Kings Highway show benefits Newman's 'Gang' camp

They sang, danced and tumbled, pooling their talents for a worthy cause, rooted in Westport but known worldwide.

Late Tuesday afternoon, more than 200 Kings Highway Elementary School students staged a variety show for several hundred people in Saugatuck Elementary School's auditorium. The show was the school's eighth annual and was a fundraiser for the nonprofit Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

The camp, which offers free summer respites to children with serious illnesses, was founded in eastern Connecticut by the late actor Paul Newman, who was a Westport resident. Show organizers hoped to raise $10,000 for the charity -- $700 had been pledged online beforehand.

"We had an all-school assembly last Friday to teach the kids `Stars in the Sky,' which is the camp's song," said Dorian Kail, a Kings Highway parent and trainer for Team Hole in the Wall. A group of students led the audience in singing the song to start the show.

Dave MacNiven, director of Team Hole in the Wall, and Michael Hund, the team's assistant director, were on hand for the performance. They dressed as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a nod to Newman, who played the role of Butch in the 1969 film.

"This is incredible," MacNiven said of the show. "It's great to be involved in a community where our founder, Paul Newman, had a great impact. And it's great to see people rallying around the camp and the people we serve. Our camp kids do a Stage Night that very much mirrors this show."

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp was the latest in a series of charities supported by the school variety show over the years. The first show in 2004 helped to raise money to aid victims of a tsunami that struck Sri Lanka.

"Our past variety shows have benefited various causes. This year's show hits closer to home," said Jessica Carey, a reading specialist at the school.

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Kings Highway teachers helped organize the show, along with help from the school's Caring Council, made up of student representatives from each classroom.

It was the energy and creative talents of the students themselves, however, that infused the event.

"Our message, `Kids Helping Kids,' communicates to our students that they can make a difference," said Carey. "They're very excited and have been watching videos and learning songs for a while now. They're a talented bunch and look forward to this every year."

Equally excited were the youngsters' parents, like Paige Strauss, the mother of two daughters at Kings Highway, Hannah and Emma. "Hannah waited all year for this and this is the first time she has performed in it," Strauss said. "But Emma has been equally motivated by the experience and raised $30 on her own for Hole in the Wall."

To make a donation, visit www.woovite.com/varietyshow

Mike Lauterborn is a freelance writer.