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Rugby audience, actors enjoy Missoula Children’s Theater’s ‘Johnny Appleseed’

By Sue Sitter - | Jul 31, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT The cast of “Johnny Appleseed” listens to a tale told by “Grandma,” right, played by Jessica Hamilton.

In five days, actors from the Missoula Children’s Theater transformed the Village Arts Center auditorium into a frontier apple orchard and a group of area children into stage performers.

The children, who ranged in age from kindergarten through 12th grade, gathered at the center July 19. With guidance from MCT actor/facilitators Garrett Gagnon and Jessica Hamilton, the youngsters became a troupe of actors.

Gagnon and Hamilton cast roles such as Older Johnny, played by Baryon Halvorson; Young Johnny, played by Madeline Hurly; and Molly, played by Sophie Sjol. Two young actors, Richie Lopez and Zerin McFadden, played a talking bison and a talking wolf.

Gagnon introduced the play to the audience at the July 23 performance, encouraging members to “let loose, laugh, applaud and enjoy” the play.

Rooted partly in history, partly in folklore, the play tells the story of pioneer John Chapman, who moved into what residents of the original 13 colonies considered “the west” to plant apple trees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Ontario, Canada.

Characters sometimes danced across the stage and broke out in song. The entire cast gathered onstage for the final musical number, inviting the audience to contribute their own “la la las” for the chorus.

Hamilton, who played “Grandma”‘ in the play, helped the young actors by dropping an occasional cue in the dialogue and leading the cast in song.

After the play ended, Gagnon appeared onstage again, giving thanks to piano accompanist Dave Schnackenberg and local actress Trista Busche, who made arrangements to help the MCT actors feel at home for their weeklong stay in Rugby. Gagnon also thanked Missoula Children’s Theater’s national sponsor, a new variety of apple called Cosmic Crisp.

Gagnon said MCT has a history of “more than 50-plus years touring all 50 states, 17 countries, seven Canadian provinces to reach over 65,000 kids every year and serve 750,000 audience members like yourself.”

” All these kids learned this show in five days,” Gagnon added, emphasizing the word “five” for effect.

Audience members responded with loud applause.

Parents took out their smart phone cameras for a cast photo after the play. “Let’s have a big smile for your fans,” Gagnon encouraged. “Say, ‘Johnny Appleseed!”

“Johnny Appleseed!” the children shouted, smiling.

“Say, ‘It’s so warm in my costume!'” Gagnon added with a smile. “It’s so warm in my costume!” The children added, laughing.

Schnackenberg , who teaches music in Rolla, said he was glad to play the piano for the program.

Busche, the Village Arts actress and member who mingled with audience members after the play, said, “This was absolutely incredible.”

“We knew we wanted to do something this year for children’s theater, but the first summer after everything that happened last year, everyone has plans; everyone’s trying to catch up on life, “Busche said.

“Children’s theater was such an important thing for me growing up,” Busche added. “It’s who I am. It’s so fun to make sure our kids had something this year. Missoula is an amazing program to be able to come in and pull this off in just a week. I don’t even think I could cast a show in a week so the fact they have this down to a science is absolutely incredible.”

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