HOLTVILLE — Johnny Appleseed, a nurseryman who introduced apples to a swath of the Midwest and a legend representing the best of America’s spirit, was exquisitely remembered in a barn-burner performance by local school students.
The play was held on Jan. 17 at the Finley Elementary School auditorium in Holtville.
It was the fifth year the Missoula Children’s Theater aided with a play in the Imperial Valley, explained Marci Mange, a teacher for the Freedom Academy of Imperial Valley that co-sponsored the performance.
Missoula provided scenery sets, costumes, grease paint and lighting to help students work as a group and distinguish themselves as individual performers.
“It’s giving the students an opportunity to engage in the performing arts.” said Mange. “In each cast girls and boys are equal. The shy experiment with bravery and the lesson they learn is all of them are necessary for the show to go on. Students have fun learning their lines, songs and dances. They push themselves. It’s all worth the effort.”
The cast of more than 50 included Cambria Day, a Freedom Academy 10th grader, playing the role of Molly Prescott, who in childhood is John Chapman’s (Appleseed) best friend.
Anxious Yet Upbeat Performers
“The other kids are good at memorizing their lines,” said Cambria, just before the opening. “I’d urge other kids to participate. You have a good feeling after it’s done and a sense of accomplishment.”
Andrew Garewal, a Finley fifth grader, played the role Rupert and, as a veteran of prior MCT productions, noted he got a good role this year.
“He’s kind of funny and he gave Johnny the name Appleseed,” said Andrew of his character. “This is one of my favorite plays because of the laugh lines and I trip all over the place and get to make fun of Johnny.”
Maddy Knapp, another Finley fifth grader, who played Sarah Prescott, noted, “I was really nervous because we had only a week to rehearse. We’ve done this multiple times and now I’m in fifth grade (going to middle school next year) I went to go out on a high note.”
Hard Work, Excitement
Crystal Morin, parent to Finley second grader Ryleigh Morin who played one of the Kiddoes, recalled students rehearsed very rigorously.
“They had some late nights and worked pretty hard,” said Morin. “She likes to sing and maybe she’ll make a career out of performing if she can stick with it.”
The play was also hard work for adults who volunteered and supervised, noted Tasha Denton, mother of performer Charliann, a Pine School first grader.
“She (Charliann) could hardly sleep last night she was so excited,” Denton said. “She’s very capable. She has natural (flair) character. She’s a free-spirited girl and this is a good match for her.”
Fine performances were turned in by Aleida Burns and Jasmine Garewal as the cantankerous yet harmless Wolf and Bison, respectfully, as well as Natalia San Pedro and Emily Stacy as the young and then older Johnny Appleseed.
Julius Charles, a Pine School fifth grader, had a front row seat and watched the performance with the intensity of a chess player.
“I liked the play,” said Julius at the conclusion. “I’ve never been in a play. Now I’ve seen it, I think I might like to be in the play next year. I kind of like to sing.”
Other standouts were Ava Legaspi and Octavio Enriquez, as the precocious Rebecca and Kelly Prescott siblings who unload on the hapless young Johnny Appleseed with some scathing wisecracks.
Bianca Padilla, Ava’s mother, did not miss a lick.
“She loves doing it,” said Padilla. “She’s been in the plays since third grade and she was excited to get more lines this year. Oh, it’s fun to watch and I always enjoy the beautiful sets.”
Ava admitted she was nervous but looks forward to next year’s production.
“I just wish they (MCT) would do it more often,” she said. “Oh yes, I really want to be an actress and go into the movies.”
Katherine Turner, former Imperial County counsel had three children in the production; Adelyn Turner, played an Appleseed, Oliver Turner played a pioneer and Robert Turner was one of the assistant directors.
“We know almost all the kids so it’s really fun to watch,” said Turner. “What’s amazing, they do it all within a week. It’s been a bit tiring but in a good way. Thank God it’s a holiday weekend.”
There was crisp piano accompaniment by Stacy Rolfe and a lot of support by MCT actor Samantha Cage and MCT director Nick Schommer, who called it a great week.
“Sometimes we go to a town and you never know what the energy will be like,” said Schommer. “But these kids brought their A game. I can’t see why MCT won’t be back here for years to come.”
The play was organized in conjunction with the Holtville Unified School District, Freedom Academy of Imperial Valley, G.A.T.E. honors program, and Pine School Creative Arts program. The Missoula Children’s Theater in its 45 year has worked with 65,000 students in all 50 states and 17 countries. It’s mission is to develop life skills in children, including an understanding of team harmony and self esteem, by participating in theater, according to a handbill distributed at the performance.
This story is featured in the Jan 23, 2020 e-Edition.