Hiking With Johnny Appleseed | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Hiking With Johnny Appleseed 

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Hiking With Johnny Appleseed, Theatre-Hikes, at North Park Village Nature Center and Washington Park. There's much worth learning about the man behind the folklore: adapter-director Lara Filip's 100-minute musical tribute, performed as a "theater hike" through assorted nature preserves, re-creates with love and imagination Johnny Appleseed's inspirational life. Did you know that some of the apple trees John Chapman planted 150 years ago are still bearing fruit? Or that even before he died of exposure in 1845, at the age of 69, he'd become a living legend, notorious for going barefoot, wearing a pot on his head, and never using a gun? But his real accomplishment was planting apple trees over a 100,000-square-mile territory that included Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and his native Pennsylvania. And Theatre-Hikes proves its devotion by planting a tree at each performance.

As bumptiously played by Richard David Cassford, supported by a plucky cast of seven, Johnny is a religious man driven to sow his seeds for the same reason that "you can't tell a hawk to sit on his wings." While other Americans were cutting trees down, this midwestern Saint Francis was planting them. Brief but vivid scenes depict his travels and adventures, as Johnny helps farmers fight a prairie fire, allows a half-breed Native American maid to get some respect, teaches the value of nature to pompous country gentry, and finds late-blooming love with a simple sweetheart named Sarah (the charming Valerie Dorizas).

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