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A ‘Wartime Romance’ on stage

Fundraiser: Event will benefit SCV nonprofits

Posted: February 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Marilyn Hackett, right, and her father, Tom Johnson, 93, read some of the wartime love letters he wrote with Margaret Wolff, who became his wife in 1945. The letters are the heart of the stage show “Wartime Romance,” written by Hackett around the WWII love letters of her parents.

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It was the box of letters written from a WWII GI stationed in the Philippines to his sweetheart back home in Kansas that started it all.

“I was in the attic and I found my parents’ love letters,” Marilyn Hackett, of Newhall, said.

Hackett was 30 and was asked by her mother to clear her belongings out of the house. In the process of looking for her things, Hackett stumbled upon the box of old letters.

The letters started Hackett, who had a background in the entertainment industry, thinking that the story told in the letters would make a good show.

“As I read the letters, it became more about the history and the time than about my own parents,” she said.

Getting permission

At first, Hackett was hesitant to approach her parents with the idea that their private love life would become a stage show.

“My mom said, ‘I don’t have anything to be embarrassed about, I didn’t write  them,’” Hackett said.

Her father agreed to the project, surprising both Hackett and her mother.

“I don’t think he actually thought it would amount to anything,” she said. “Now I think my dad wants his own tour bus.”

As Hackett started writing the show, she found that she learned more about her parents and saw them in a different light.

“I certainly found out through the letters that everyone is human in the grips of war,” she said. “There are many things that happen in war that veterans in general don’t talk about.”

Hackett said she is gratified that families who come to see the show now talk about how war has affected them.

‘Wartime Romance’

“Wartime Romance” was first performed in the Santa Clarita Valley in 2006.

“It was a showcase production,” Hackett said. She credited Galpin Motors and the city of Santa Clarita with helping launch the show.

“We have been working since then to bring the show up to Broadway-caliber show that we can tour,” she said.

The show has been expanded and improved, Hackett said.

Additions to the show include a Filipino dance troupe and more music, Hackett said.

“We’re doing this production to honor our troops, honor our veterans and to help nonprofits in the SCV,” Hackett said. “It’s opened up conversations.”

“Wartime Romance” is based on the more than 250 letters written over four years by her father to her mother.

The show is set both in Kansas and the Philippines.

Her father, a Marine captain, served as a bomber pilot and led Squadron 133.

It follows the love story of Hackett’s parents Tom Johnson and Margaret Wolff during WWII.

“They broke up, got back together; it’s a very human story,” she said. “There’s a lot of laughs and a lot of tears.”

April 28 performance

Performances of the show will be held at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, April 28 at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center on the Valencia campus of College of the Canyons.

Ticket sales for the afternoon performance will benefit Prayer Angels for the Military and the evening performance will benefit Bridge to Home (formerly the Emergency Winter Shelter) and Single Mothers Outreach.

Audience members will be encouraged to fill out a postcard included in each program with a note of thanks to the troops.

“The audience will take the postcard out to the lobby, where they will give it to Girl Scout volunteers, who will put them in packages,” said Hackett.

The postcards will be presented to a 1940s-era post office set up at the PAC by the Postal Service.

Each postcard will be hand cancelled with a Newhall Station postmark.

In addition, Yoti Telio of Santa Clarita Photographic Studio will provide free photos to members of the military and military families.

“He’s so wonderful to donate his services for this event,” Hackett said.

The evening performance of the show will offer a special gala dinner option.

The College of the Canyons cafeteria will be decorated in a 1940s style, said Hackett, and the dinner will be catered by Cecilia de Castro, owner of the Academy of Culinary Education in Woodland Hills.

Atticus, hero dog

Atticus, an 8-year-old yellow Labrador owned by Vietnam vet Jim Hogan, of Canyon Country, was named as a Hero Dog by the American Human Association and served as the Hero Dog Awards Grand Marshall.

“We have Atticus in the show,” Hackett said. “The kids love to see the dog in the show.”

Family-friendly show

Hackett said “Wartime Romance” is the kind of show that appeals to audiences of all ages.

“It is a family-friendly show,” she said. “It’s fun to watch little children leave the show singing songs from the 1940s. It’s music they’ve never heard.”

Hackett said the show opens doors for families to learn about each other.

“Children will ask, ‘Was great-grandpa like that?’ It starts to educate children on what sacrifice means, what the family means.”

Hackett said learning the sacrifices made by everyday citizens during WWII changed her thinking.

“After Sept. 11, did we have to register our tires with the government? Did we have to melt down our toasters?” she said.

“Did we have to ration anything? When I think of what they had to go through, it makes you humble and grateful.”

Marilyn Hackett

Hackett, a vocalist, had her own show in Las Vegas, where she headlined on the strip with such stars as the Mills Brothers, David Copperfield and Robert Goulet.

After her time in Las Vegas, she accepted tours with Princess Cruise Lines as a guest artist. She performed her cabaret act and starred in the cruise line’s musical productions.

When she married her husband Wayne Hackett in 1989, Marilyn decided to leave the road behind and concentrate on writing, acting and producing.

The couple have lived in the SCV for almost 15 years.

Hackett was born in Neodashe, Kansas where her father worked as a high school sports coach.

The family moved to California when Hackett was 5 and her father became the athletic director of Riverside City College.

Hackett’s mother died almost a decade ago.

Grateful for support

Hackett said she has more than 25 partners helping with the April 28 production.

“You can’t do this without the community support,” she said. “I am so grateful for everyone who had offered to help and donated their services. This is a very gracious and giving community.”

Hackett said she also has a committee of more than a dozen people that has helped organize areas needing support and supervision.

“They really are the force behind this,” she said.

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