NEWHALL – A curious daughter’s accidental discovery of a cache of letters has evolved into a moving tribute to her parents and veterans throughout the ages. “Wartime Romance,” written by Newhall resident Marilyn Johnson Hackett, takes audiences back to World War II days in Horton, Kan., where Margaret Wolff – Hackett’s mother – corresponded with a bomber pilot named Tom Johnson, whom she married when he returned home. The play, a benefit for the Veterans Historical Plaza in downtown Newhall, will debut Friday at the Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons. The letters are like thousands of others written from a war zone – filled with small talk in grave circumstances. The possibility that each letter could be the last is unspoken. The optimism from each writer is necessary for survival. “After 9-11, I wanted to do something,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything about the situation, but I could do something about the guys who are over there sacrificing for us every day.” She called in lots of personal favors, starting right at home, where her husband, Wayne, agreed to serve as director. She recruited actor friends for roles – Beth Maitland to play Sarah; Eddie Frierson to play her father, Tommy; Sam Musso to play Sarah’s beau, Socs; Sloan to play the postman; Lorie McMahon to play the daughter (young Marilyn) and newcomers Sam Lewis and Eric Kilpatrick to play two of Tommy’s fellow Marines. She saved the role closest to her heart for herself – as a young version of her mother. “I had no idea it would be this hard, playing my mother,” she said, blinking back tears. “I thought, `You’re in showbiz; it’s just another role,’ but it’s not like that at all. “Chuck knew my mother. He’s kind of my coach. He’s my gauge so I know if I’ve got it. He told me when I did a certain thing, I became her and it gave him chills.” Other technical help and sponsors joined in, and the debut performances – Friday, Saturday and Sunday at College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center – will include an opportunity to send postcards and packages through Prayer Angels for the Military. Hackett hopes that future performances might be sponsored by the United Service Organizations or veterans groups. The man who wrote those original letters, Marine Capt. Tom Johnson, now 88, hasn’t seen any rehearsals or read the script yet, but he’s proud of his daughter’s efforts. “I thought if it would do some good to help the veterans who served our country, then I’ll go along with it,” he said. Johnson became a dive-bomber pilot in 1942 when he joined the Marines and was sent to the Pacific theater. He served four years in the Marines. “At my age, I’m not seeking any glory, and I don’t like a lot of praise. I don’t feel like I was a hero. I flew planes, bombed targets, was shot at and came home,” he said. “The real heroes were in Pearl Harbor or crawling on the beaches at Guadalcanal or in Normandy.” Performances of “Wartime Romance” are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with matinees scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $20 per person. For ticket information, visit www.wartimeromance.com or call Pam Hogan at (661) 251-7870 for information. [email protected] (661)257-5252160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2“When I found the letters, I was nervous, but I told my mom I had read them,” Hackett said. “She was embarrassed for my dad. She thought I might have intruded on his thoughts. As a performer, as I read them, they (referred to) songs that each was listening to, and I thought this was a great story to be put to music.” The show will feature performances by singers from the Harmony Hills Barbershop Chorus and a live big-band orchestra will provide the musical acccompaniment. Chuck Sloan, who plays a postman and minister in the show, has been a friend of Hackett’s since college, and he remembers getting a call from her when she found the letters in her parents’ attic. “She called me and said she’d found these letters and thought it would be a great thing to mix with music,” he recalled. “She knew it needed to be presented as so much more than straight letters. But there’s that uneasy feeling when you read your parents’ thoughts. It’s so personal you have to be very careful.” Margaret and Tom Johnson gave their daughter their blessing to proceed with her idea, but, busy with other projects, she put the draft in a drawer. Her mother died in 2001, and her father came to live with Hackett and her husband in Newhall. When ground was broken for the plaza, she felt it was time to finally bring the project to life.