Katelynn Quick held it together Thursday morning through the Christian Youth Theater’s nearly two-hour production of “Tarzan.”
But near the end, when Tarzan said goodbye to his ape family in the seventh musical number, “You’ll Be in My Heart,” she was fighting back tears.
She was thinking about her friend and fellow cast member Houston St. John, a Shawnee Mission West High School student killed Tuesday in a car wreck.
St. John, 17, was one of two actors cast in the lead role of the teenage Tarzan.
“He was a part of our family, and we never got a chance to say goodbye,” said Quick, 16, one of the two actresses who play Jane in alternating performances.
Thursday morning’s performance was for elementary school children at the Bell Cultural Events Center on the MidAmerica Nazarene University campus in Olathe.
After the show, Quick did cry. Still wearing her makeup and yellow linen costume, she greeted audience members in the lobby and talked about St. John.
He was involved in drama and choir at his school and had been in four of the nonprofit theater group’s shows. He and the 91 other cast members had practiced for “Tarzan” for three months, and their friendship had grown tight.
One thing about him was clear, said Mackenna Milbourn, who also plays Jane and was teamed with St. John: “He really loved musical theater so much.”
Thursday’s performance was the first of 14 — continuing through next week — of the Christian Youth Theater’s 100th show. The musical was dedicated to St. John as a way to celebrate his life, cast members said.
“Houston on stage was amazing — his singing voice, his characters,” said Gina Milbourn, the show’s co-director and Mackenna’s mother. “He was very professional and a quick study. He learned to tap dance last year in two days for a show.
“Even with all the talent he had, he was humble, and that doesn’t always happen. He was not a diva.”
With St. John gone, his friend Dylan Martin will play the role of Tarzan for all 14 shows.
St. John was on his way to dress rehearsal Tuesday when the accident occurred about 1:05 p.m.
The Kansas Highway Patrol said his car, which was heading east on Interstate 435, spun out of control near Lackman Road and collided with a westbound vehicle. Both drivers were wearing seat belts. The driver in the other vehicle was not injured.
At the rehearsal, theater production leaders called parents of cast members together. Their children, unaware of St. John’s death, had gathered in another room where “they were singing praise songs,” Gina Milbourn said. Prayers before performing are typical.
Dress rehearsal was put off to the next day. Cast members, who range in age from 8 to 18, said they did a lot of hugging and praying before that rehearsal.
“Some of the 8-year-olds were even talking to Houston,” said Martin, a 17-year-old senior at Blue Valley Northwest High School. “It’s interesting, the mind and heart of a child. I wish we all had that.”
But Martin said the cast members were determined to do their best on stage. St. John’s parents, David and Theresa St. John, had told the group’s leaders that it was what their son would have wanted.
“I think that is what is holding us together through all of this,” Quick said. “It is knowing that he is watching over us. Knowing that Houston has the best seat in the house.”
Funeral services are planned for 10 a.m. Saturday in the main worship center at Lenexa Baptist Church.