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Johnny Appleseed Theater sows summer entertainment

| Thursday, June 10, 2004

The barn that is now the Apple Hill Playhouse dates back to the Civil War era, but the classic children's fairy tales that will unfold on its single stage this summer often have modern and entertaining twists.

In "The Somewhat True Tales of Robin Hood," for instance, the case includes a new character -- a narrator called the Town's Guy -- who frequently argues with the egotistical Robin Hood as they venture through Sherwood Forest. Meghan O'Halloran, director of the playhouse's first children's show of the season, likens the play's style and humor to "Robin Hood: Men In Tights" and "Shrek."

"It's one of the better kids' show scripts; there are things that make it entertaining for all ages," says O'Halloran, whose show debuts Tuesday and has a cast of performers ages 10 to 20.

"My actors are great ... with the lines that aren't even funny in the script, their facial expressions can make me laugh every time," she says. "They grab a character and really liven up a script."

"Robin Hood" is the first of five productions in Apple Hill's Johnny Appleseed Children's Theatre summer program, which aims to extend live theater to youngsters in elementary school and even preschool, playhouse officials say. This year's other plays are "The Truly Remarkable Puss-In-Boots," "Twelve Dancing Princesses," "The Trial of Goldilocks" -- another humorous version of the original, in which the bears take their intruder to a musical court -- and "Cinderella."

The cozy setting of the 142-seat playhouse, nestled among flowers and apple trees on manicured grounds, could come from one of the stories acted out onstage, says Ellen Lettrich, assistant producer and director of education for Apple Hill Playhouse.

"They can enjoy the outside, then come in to see the show," she says. "It's almost a fairy tale setting, because it's such beautiful grounds. It's like an English garden."

After each show, everyone has the opportunity to meet the cast, ask questions and get autographs, Lettrich says. Many children also discover a curiosity about theater and interest in acting after shows, and sign up for one of Apple Hill's classes for ages 4 to 20. Later, some audition and land parts in plays, she says.

O'Halloran, now 19, is one such lucky kid who started working with Apple Hill when she was 5. She also will play the farmer's wife in "Puss-In-Boots."

Lettrich says she hopes to get more children involved with the theater like this.

"We have the capacity to take any student who gets the theater bug by watching ... and saying, 'This is a nice place. I like what they do here.'" Additional Information:


Johnny Appleseed Children's Theatre 2004 summer season

When: All plays begin at 11 a.m. Each show plays on two consecutive Tuesdays and Thursdays, and each show once on a Friday and Saturday between Tuesday and Aug. 14. 'The Somewhat True Tales of Robin Hood' runs June 15 through 25; 'The Truly Remarkable Puss-In-Boots' runs June 29 through July 9; 'Twelve Dancing Princesses' runs July 13 through 23; 'The Trial of Goldilocks' runs July 27 through Aug. 6; 'Cinderella' runs Aug. 10 through 20.

Admission: Season tickets are $24 and $22 for all ages, price depending on seating. Individual tickets are $6, and $5 for groups of 10 or more.

Where: Apple Hill Playhouse, 275 Manor Road, Delmont, Westmoreland County.

Details: (724) 468-5050.

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