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Johnny Appleseed

Avery Stephens, Dylan Wright and Charlotte Ball from the Missoula Children's Theatre production "Johnny Appleseed." The show will be performed this weekend before going on tour.

There’s a balance to be struck when writing a play that is supposed to be learned in a week, to challenge and teach acting and singing, and to be appropriate for a large age range.

It’s not easy, but making the play about Johnny Appleseed made it just a bit easier for Executive Director Michael McGill, who penned the Missoula Children’s Theatre's new touring show “Johnny Appleseed.”

“He just loved every living thing,” McGill said. “There’s stories of him not wanting to hurt a mosquito.”

That kind of pure-hearted protagonist is a good start for the musical production, which follows Johnny through different stages of life, as he spreads apples throughout post-Revolutionary War America.

Plus, as McGill pointed out, there’s nothing tastier than a nice, crispy apple.

“It’s got some positive messages in it, even the message that apples are a good snack,” he said.

“Johnny Appleseed” is an adaptation of an earlier play from the MCT archives, but McGill said it’s basically all new — new songs, characters and scenes.

The show is premiering at MCT, but will take to the road this fall as a part of the MCT’s educational touring production.

That makes for fun rehearsals, according to co-director Matt Loehrke.

“The nice thing about doing this show in Missoula first, is it will translate to how we teach it to tour managers and directors,” Loehrke said.

Many of their touring shows go through two to three years of production, he said, making “Johnny Appleseed’s” timeline relatively short.

So he challenges his cast to step up and do their very best, as well as to keep in mind how the play will read to students learning it for the first time.

 “It’s very relatable to the students,” Loehrke said. “If they’re laughing and you’re laughing, then you know you’re doing it right.”

“Johnny Appleseed” is also the first MCT touring show to have a national sponsor, according to Foundations/Corporations Director Naomi Lichtenberg, and it’s a juicy one.

A marketing agency promoting the Cosmic Crisp apple, a new variety engineered at Washington State University, will sponsor the show.

 “They felt that the people that we reach — families, students, kids and so on — would be a great fit,” Lichtenberg said. “Johnny Appleseed is of course a perfect fit, too.”

The apple, along the lines of Pink Lady or Jazz apples, is a hybrid that is compared to Honeycrisp in its flavor and texture.

It will be out in stores this fall, Lichtenberg said and the MCT has samples for attendees of “Johnny Appleseed.”

“This is the most comprehensive national sponsorship we’ve ever had,” Lichtenberg said. “It’s just really remarkable that this is ground zero.”

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.