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July 24, 2014, 4:42 am

Resorts will feature first Christian play in casino

According to its playwright, Leroy A. “Lee” Harris, “When the Child Cries,” will become the first gospel musical presented in any casino with runs March 1-2 at Resorts Casino Hotel’s Superstar Theater, in Atlantic City, N.J.  The musical is a charity benefit with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross Superstorm Sandy Relief Fund. Resorts Casino Hotel is donating the use of its theater venue.

This gospel musical originated from an award-winning poem on family and social issues facing young mothers that transcend ethnicities. It’s a show about salvation and is filled with amazing gospel singers and songs. The performances include real pastors as cast members who do a real invitation to salvation in the final act.

Moved by the devastation and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Harris said, “I saw mothers crying, families of four or more still living in single motel rooms and heard reports of depleting funds to help them.” 

Harris decided to use his popular and poignant gospel musical as a charitable resource to raise funds and awareness for children and families still struggling to recover from Sandy’s massive destruction. New Jersey was one of the hardest hit states by the storm.  Local clergy from Philadelphia and New Jersey are in support of this gospel fundraiser.

“When the Child Cries is a very enlightening play. It’s written and directed by a minority brother by the name of Lee Harris,” said Rev. Sheila Harper, Associate Minister-Sharon Baptist Church. “It’s a power 5-act play, like many families in today’s society, the family depicted in the play present a family of limited resources.  Which addresses low or no income, poor, no housing, little to no education, no food, no medical-no dental insurance, you know, things of that nature,” 

“As the story unfolds, a tragedy kind of brings home the message that hardships can be too hard to bare,” Harper said.

Harper has a pivotal role in the musical, there’s a segment in this musical where she will officiate an actual call to Christian discipleship/salvation for audience members.

Other local clergy involved and supportive of this gospel musical fundraiser include Elder Dianne Johnson who appears as a featured singer and Bishop George Gibson who appears as an attending pastor; both are from Christian Love Worship Cathedral, 813 W Lehigh Ave. Bishop Shawn Bartley, pastor at True United Apostolic, 6201 Old York Road, also appears as an attending pastor.

“When the Child Cries” has evolved over the years, playing at various venue locations nationally.  The musical gained national notoriety when during 2011 and 2012, four- time Grammy award winner Karen Clark Sheard joined the cast as a featured singer.

“Karen Clark Sheard’s contribution was God-sent and caused many in the gospel industry to recognize the electrifying gospel musical “When the Child Cries” as a serious gospel musical.  A production unlike any other with a unique theme that is about salvation and incorporates audience members getting saved during the final act of the production,” said Harris.  

In September 2012, gospel superstar Earnest Pugh added to the musical’s national acclaim and popularity by joining the cast and performing his two chart topping gospel hits “Rain on Us” and “I Need Your Glory.”

Harris said that major secular musical artists had lend their notoriety to fundraising efforts for victims of Hurricane Sandy by performing in Atlantic City casinos, he felt it important that the Christian community should be just as benevolent and public about offering its support, too. 

Harris met with Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford.

“I met with [Mayor Langford] for an hour and a half,” Harris said.

After the meeting, Harris said that Langford was excited and supportive of his fundraising idea and initiated a meeting between Harris and senior executives at Resorts Casino Hotel. The casino execs approved to have the fundraising event at their venue.

“I am bringing the full play to Atlantic City to also show that the [New Jersey] destination is okay. The Boardwalk and the city have recovered from Superstorm Sandy and we will bring visitors in to see for themselves.  It’s an outstanding opportunity to raise funds for those in the region that are still recuperating and need the additional funding to get back on their feet. Many people surrounding the casinos are still living in horrible conditions.  It is our duty to try to help them,” said Harris.

“All proceeds are going to go to the American Red Cross, and as far as the cast [is concerned], I’m paying for that myself,” said Harris, a retired U.S. Marine Aviation veteran and award winning poet. 

The opening narration of the play is from Harris' original award winning poem “When a Girl Cries.”

Harris transferred from Norfolk State to Glassboro State College, earning his undergraduate degree in sociology.  He served in the U.S. Navy and later served as an aviation officer in the Marines.

After serving in the military, he attended graduate school at the University of Michigan in the Department of Speech Communication, and the University of Iowa in the Department of Speech Communication and Dramatic Arts, and Rutgers University. 

In addition to being a playwright, Harris is also a boxing trainer in Las Vagas, and he’s also a performer in his musical, portraying a lighthearted character named Uncle Hucklebuck.

"Christian influence is weaning in the world. We have become very comfortable preaching to ‘caught and taught’ fish while waiting for the lost to wander into our nets [the local church]. Jesus commanded that His disciples: ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’ [Matthew 28:19],” said Harper.

She said, “while the play will not be held in the face of casino gamblers, but rather in the Superstar Theater located within the casino, it is my hope that we will capture that crowd.”

Tickets are priced at $35 for general admission and $45 for preferred seating, and are available for purchase through Ticketmaster at http://www.ticketmaster.com/.  Resorts Casino Hotel is located at 1133 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, N.J.  For more information about Harris and his gospel musical, go to:  http://www.whenthechildcries.org/, or call:  856-562-0964.