‘Seeing the beauty in life’

MARSHALL – Eighth-grader Rebecca Baker was one of nearly 60 Holy Redeemer School students to audition Monday and then rehearse all week to get ready to perform the Missoula Children’s Theatre version of “The Secret Garden” today and Saturday.

Baker portrays the central character, Mary Lennox.

“It’s been going pretty good,” Baker said. “I play an 8-year-old girl who got transported from India to England, and my parents died from a disease, so I’m really rude and kind of bratty. Then when I get to England, I find this secret garden, and I figure out that I should be nicer and more sweet to people.”

Baker said she practices being bratty at home with her brother and then being nice around her friends.

“It’s pretty fun,” Baker said. “But it’s a big responsibility because I have to memorize a lot of lines. I have to memorize the whole play, basically. I’m looking forward to the performances, but I’m kind of nervous, too.”

Throughout the musical, Lennox finds new friends and a new outlook at life, which is Baker’s favorite part of the play.

“I like when I get to the garden, and I realize that it’s a nice place for me to hang out,” she said. “Mary ends up with new friends. She has friends Dickon, Martha and Collin.”

Seventh-grader Meredith Bock is cast as Dickon Sowerby, while classmate Ta’mia Hedlin is Martha Sowerby. Sixth-grader Eli Cole portrays Colin Craven.

“‘The Secret Garden’ is loosely based off the novel, ‘The Secret Garden,'” MCT Director Emma Merlo said. “It’s about always being positive when things are the darkest and about seeing the beauty in life. And it’s great. It’s meatier than most Missoula plays. It’s got a real intricate plot, but there are still some really fun moments, too.”

Merlo explained that Mary Lennox is orphaned at the beginning of the story when her parents die from cholera. The play then revolves around Lennox’s struggles to find a new place in life.

“Mary is being sent to live with her last remaining relative, Archibald in England,” Merlo said. “So then you get to meet Archibald and his wacky family at Misselthwaite Manor in England. On her travels there, she meets a bug rock band, some Canadian geese, fireflies who light the way and some moorfolk, which are little animals that live on the moors. And of course, there is the secret garden itself, which calls out to Mary throughout the play.”

Isaac Timmerman is Archibald Cravens, while the bugs are played by: Victoria Coudron, Katie Ewing, Kaitlyn Harraghy, Abigail Kesteloot, Emma Klein, Karley Polejewski, Anna Timmerman and Jenna Zeug. The geese include: Ethan Brau, Rachel Coudron, Nicholas Dunn, Avery Leary, Kayla Polejewski, Noah Puetz, Gabriella Schlenner, Laura Tappe, Ethan VanHauwaert and Zoe Vorbach.

“The moorfolk are the robin, the crow, the foxes, the squirrels and the sheep,” Merlo said.

Kaylee VanHauwaert (robin), Nathan Lenz (crow), Brayden (fox), Alex Franson (fox), Samantha Maher (squirrel), Brenna Springborg (squirrel), Danielle Ewing (sheep), Henry Herrick (sheep) and Christina Purrington (sheep) make up the moorfolk characters, while the fireflies are played by Joshua Bauer, Brady Brandl, Ella Cole, Elizabeth Coudron, Noah Coudron, Michael Naber and Bella Puetz.

“What everyone does in that amount of time (five days) is amazing,” said Keri Cole, who co-chairs the children’s theater committee with Ann Schlenner at HRS. “It’s really remarkable.”

The biggest challenge this year, Cole said, has been trying to pull off a sensational performance with only one director. The other director, Savannah Arwood, has been sick. Seventh-grader Daniel Bauer has had to step up his efforts in Arwood’s absence.

“It’s kind of crazy having only one director,” Cole said. “But Emma is trying to pull all of it together, and Daniel is doing more than an assistant director normally would do, I think.”

Merlo agrees, noting that Bauer had really stepped up.

“A big part of this program is putting the responsibility in the kids’ hands and letting them do the play themselves,” Merlo said. “We’re just there to teach. This is one of my favorite shows. It’s harder but if you set your expectations high, they’ll rise up to them.

“Daniel has really stepped up. There are also fantastic parent volunteers. It’s a great community.”

HRS music teacher Anna Lenz is accompanying the show on the piano. It’s the ninth time she’s helped out with MCT plays.

“They teach it, and I accompany it,” Lenz said. “I only missed one year because my oldest was born in October and now he’s in it.”

Lenz said that nearly 70 kids in grades K-8 auditioned for the musical. While participation is highly recommended, it was unfortunate that cuts had to be made this year, she said.

“It’s always fun,” she said. “I love it every year. It blows my mind, though, how it all comes together.”

Secret garden members are played by Colton Appel, Ben Brandl, Judyta Browne, Alana Condezo, Annabel Coudron, Jenae Davis, Jacob Digre, Evan Franson, Catie Naber, Traeh Siekmann Adams, Karsten Springborg and Jonah Vorbach, while the show also includes Sofie Bock (Dr. Craven), Abby Clarin (Susan Sowerby), Mattea Dobrenski (Mrs. Medlock), Courtney Toulouse (Ayah) and Daniel VanKeulen (Ben Weatherstaff).

“The kids have really kept up,” Merlo said. “They’re fantastic. It’s going to be a great show.”

Performances are at 7 p.m. today and 1 p.m. on Saturday at HRS.