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Miami Valley Christian Academy’s “In His Steps”

Review by Jane Nalbandian, School for Creative & Performing Arts Cappies Critic Team

Miami Valley Christian Academy produced a miraculous performance of "In His Steps," spreading the well-meaning themes and values of Christianity. Through a cast of malleable actors, practical and well-designed technical elements, and a newly adapted script, the students of Miami Valley Christian Academy brought Charles Monroe Sheldon's book to life.

Based on the 1896 book, "In His Steps" follows the members of the First Church of Raymond. After an ill and jobless man, Jack Manning, interrupts the service questioning whether members are actually living life by Jesus's teachings, Reverend Henry Maxwell is inspired to challenge the members with a pledge: to not make any decisions without first asking what Jesus would do. The pledge inspires the members to make change across the community, and eventually, the mantra of, "What would Jesus do?" spreads all across the country.

The cast of "In His Steps" faced a unique challenge: being the first ones to work with a new script. The students of Miami Valley Christian Academy were certainly up to the task. Due to a large amount of roles, many actors had to portray more than one character. The actors used unique character choices and mannerisms to differentiate between their roles. Some particular standouts were Sam Bennett, who delivered a particularly poignant performance as the contemplative newspaper editor Edward Norman; Jillian Beasley, whose portrayal of Rachel Winslow was enhanced by her beautiful singing voice; and Kalena Jackson, whose portrayal of Felicia Sterling brought the themes of kindness and service to life. Overall, the cast of "In His Steps" demonstrated prowess and maturity through their performance of this new and challenging script.

The technical side of "In His Steps" strengthened the performance as well. The set team built a beautiful, yet practical set to help transform the stage into many different locations. The platforms brought levels to the set, adding variety to the blocking and making it easier to understand changes in location. The shelves on either side of the stage were another practical touch, making it easier for actors to pick up costume pieces and props. Ashlyn Brock designed the characters' hair and makeup with careful consideration of age, class, and time period. The special effects makeup for when Loreen was hit with a rock was cleverly executed.

The students of Miami Valley Christian Academy faced the challenges of performing and designing a new script head on. Through the actors' meaningful performances and the excellent technical elements, Miami Valley Christian Academy originated an inspiring production, highlighting the teachings of Christ and demonstrating the importance of kindness, selflessness, and service.

Review by Kelly Oberst, Larry A. Ryle High School Cappies Critic Team

Love, faith, and the imitation of Christ in one's daily life were all themes explored in Miami Valley Christian Academy's exceptionally written adaptation of Charles M. Sheldon's novel, "In His Steps." In asking the question, "What would Jesus do?" the characters in this show live lives dedicated to performing good works and considering how their actions will affect others, both of which are actions that have wonderfully portrayed lessons behind them.

Towards the beginning of the play, Reverend Henry Maxwell urges his congregation at the First Church of Raymond to live life as Jesus would, as he tries to answer the question of what Christ meant when he told humanity to follow him. The individuals in his congregation begin to evaluate how they should live their lives in correspondence with Maxwell's message. In doing so, they take action to better the lives of certain people in their community who had strayed from the right path. Overall, the show was incredibly well-done by the cast and crew alike, and any error was completely overshadowed by their performance.

Notable performances included that of Max Hunkler, whose portrayal of Reverend Maxwell displayed just how well he understood his character's purpose and intentions throughout the show. He had a commanding stage presence each time he stepped onto it, which was especially prominent during his ending monologue. Jillian Beasley played Rachel Winslow, a member of and singer in the church's congregation, who was conflicted on how she should use her singing abilities in her community, so that it reflected how Jesus would have decided to do so. Beasley was not only extremely talented at portraying her character's intention of always wanting to do the right thing, but was also a remarkable singer whose voice constantly captured the attention of all around her.

Other memorable character portrayals were that of Hailey Bauer, who depicted her character, Virginia Page's, compassion for humanity with grace. Kalena Jackson brilliantly illustrated her character, Felicia Sterling's, humility from the moment she was first introduced onstage. Sam Bennett played four different characters and was able to differentiate each character's purpose and demeanor well. Gunnar Shoemake opened the show powerfully as Jack Manning and continued with the same energy in his portrayals of both Jasper Chase and Dr. Bruce.

The technical aspects of the show were also impressively executed. The set itself was intricately made so that each piece could be used creatively throughout the show. For example, the platform was utilized throughout the entire show, and set pieces were added or taken away to modify the stage for each new setting. The shelves were built for holding costumes pieces, so that the several actors who played multiple characters could add a costume piece to their look quickly to be able to efficiently transition into that new character. Both the lighting and sound crews did an impeccable job of staying on cue throughout the entirety of the performance. The simplistic, yet classic styling of both the hair and makeup, by Ashlyn Brock, was true to period, while the stage crew was able to move set pieces quickly and efficiently during the several scene changes that took place.

The cast and crew did an exceptional job of portraying the inspirational themes of Charles M. Sheldon's novel, that because of their memorable performance and adaptation, resonated well and subsequently, sparked a striking call to action.

By Holly Dodd, School for Creative & Performing Arts Cappies Critic Team

The message of Jesus has always been to be selfless, kind, and generous; these are the aspects that the Miami Valley Christian Academy highlights in its rendition of "In His Steps." The cast bravely put on their own adaptation of Charles M. Sheldon's novel, sticking both to the heart and plot of the story. The play takes place in Raymond in 1895 and Chicago in 1896 as a homeless man walks into the First Church of Raymond and asks them why they are not living the way their savior would have wanted; instead of giving to the needy, they hoard away their money. This causes every member of the church to refuse to make any sort of decision without asking themselves first, "What would Jesus do?"

Rachel Winslow, played by Jillian Beasley, gives up a prospective music career so that she can sing in the church and help those in need instead. Edward Norman, played by Sam Bennett, owned a newspaper and instead of publishing big money articles that would have kept the paper going, he chooses to only publish the articles Jesus would. The characters give several things up, but they also learn valuable lessons and become people of integrity and the movement moves as far as Chicago.

While Miami Valley Christian academy put on a great show with wonderful messages about how to treat other people, they also built the entire set themselves, creating platforms, steps, a bed, a pulpit, benches, a desk, chairs and a set of identical shelves. When it came to costumes, they went with a simple black on black theme which accented their choice of hair and makeup for the time period. Younger characters wore their hair down, while older characters wore it up to help tell them apart, especially since several cast members played more than one character.

"In His Steps" highlights the qualities that people in any religion should have; selflessness, kindness, and generosity. It's a message that many people still need today, and Miami Valley Christian Academy executed it with the utmost care.

Excerpts from Top-Ranked Student Reviews

“Leading the cast was junior Max Hunkler. Hunkler gave an especially convincing performance as Reverend Henry Maxwell from his tone of voice to his subdued mannerisms. Each prayer scene was authentic, whether it was verbal or implied through the blocking. Heiress Virginia Page, played by sophomore Hailey Bauer, brought light to the issue of poverty and taking care of those who are less fortunate. Her most humanizing scenes took place in the rectangle, a less reputable area of town surrounded by saloons and infested with alcohol and distress, or when defending Loreen Carson when verbally attacked by the fashionable girls. Undeterred from her society driven family, Virginia followed Jesus' steps.”

-Chloe Shenton, Mariemont High School

“The light crew did a phenomenal job of controlling the spotlights and putting emphasis on important and intimate moments, such as Rachel praying. The monochromatic wooden set was simple yet it was functional, allowing for seamless transitions between scenes. For the costumes, the characters all wore black and each had a distinct prop to differentiate themselves. The simplicity in materials allowed the audience to truly focus on the message of God and how material things have no significance in relation to Him, ultimately allowing the students to create their characters and setting based off their convictions and talent instead of relying on things themselves.”

-Kaia Armstrong, Colerain High School

“Standout supporting actress Hailey Bauer, playing Virginia Page, exhibited what happened when she lived by the motto, "What would Jesus do?" Originally, she has trouble identifying what He would do, but with the help of other Christians in her community, she found the best way to live in His steps.”

-Jacob Cox, Mariemont High School

“The simplistic nature of the set allowed for easy set changes and let the story go anywhere while still keeping it uncomplicated. The all wooden set kept it clean and added to the late 1890's feel of the entire production. The usage of the wooden shelves, on either side of the stage for quick and easy costume changes, was an ingenious notion.”

-Josie Palmarini, School for Creative & Performing Arts

“Jillian Beasley , who played the hopeful-but-conflicted Rachel Winslow in the first act, did an effective job with her multitude of lines, all while singing beautifully during her highlighted solos throughout the production. Felicia Sterling, played by Kalena Jackson, served a similar role in the second act. With the weight of the show on her shoulders, she never failed to impress through a balance of comedy and drama.”

-Cassidy Perme, Highlands High School

“The hairstyles and makeup were uncomplicated in the era of the 1890's. Ashlyn Brock styled hair in a simple but effective way. A unique set design included the whole stage being constructed from unpainted wood. This showed the simplicity of the time.”

-Gracie Markus, Campbell County High School

“Max Hunkler's portrayal of pastor Henry Maxwell was utterly passionate as he developed a full understanding of how to make decisions for his life and for the lives in his church. Not only was his acting natural and authentic, but his ability to deliver challenging monologues helped the audience grasp the themes of the show. Jillian Beasley's role as singer Rachel Winslow was also a standout, as she brought strength to her character who went through much development throughout the story.”

-Izzy Moses, Highlands High School

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