This year marks the 20th anniversary of the annual tradition of the “LukeFest Players.” Each year this group of thespians stages a musical production for charity – specifically the Luke Neuhedel Foundation. This 501c3 is dedicated to improving the quality of life for children currently undergoing and who have undergone treatment for pediatric cancer.
For founders Becky and Paul Neuhedel, it is a cause that will forever be close to their hearts. In 2002, their young son Luke passed away after a battle with stage 4 hepatoblastoma, a very rare liver cancer that affects 1 in a million children under the age of 1 each year. Today, they continue to run the foundation that, in addition to raising monetary funding, provides gifts, toys, support, entertainment, and strives to spread awareness of a disease that kills more children than all others put together in the US.
“LukeFest,” as the theatrical fundraiser is affectionately called, is a family affair. Mr. and Mrs. Neuhedel’s children continue to perform year after year, lending their experience in theatre to the productions.
“For me, Lukefest has always been about raising awareness for the children undergoing treatment for cancer,” Guenevere Neuhedel, who plays The Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd, said in a promotion on the foundation’s Facebook page.
“Having seen my brother Luke face the same treatments, I know that a little goes a long way. By raising money through our Lukefest performance, we can help families of children with cancer pay for their electric bills, gas, groceries, etc. Anything and everything helps when you’re trying to choose between paying rent and your child’s chemotherapy. Through LNF’s Lukefest fundraiser, we hope to make that choice easier for families.”
Over the years, the event led to the formation of a family atmosphere behind the scenes. The casts and production team consider themselves to be a family unit that extends beyond blood ties.
“The sense of community created when putting on a Lukefest show is amazing and the experience is sure to be filled with many laughs and inside jokes!” said Gabby Maresco, who plays Joanna in “Sweeney Todd.” “All of the people in the process are not only super talented, but super lovely humans!”
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” plays Thursday, February 20 at 8 p.m, Friday February 21 at 8 p.m Saturday February 22 at 8 p.m, and Sunday February 23 at 3 p.m at Marina Regina Pontieri Hall located at 3945 Jerusalem Avenue, Seaford.
Tickets for are currently available online at www.lukefund.org or at the door. For additional information visit the Luke Neuhedel Foundation on Facebook. If you cannot attend, please consider donating to the cause.
Photos by Alexander Neuhedel