‘Cries of Freedom’ continues at Freedom Festival

Bonnie Busco keeps a booklet that one of her young cast members made for her after a performance of “Cries of Freedom.” It’s close at hand and full of signatures from dozens of other cast members she’s worked with through the years. She flips to a page and reads one of the inscriptions written by a cast member who came from Overton, Nev. to be a part of the show.

“This production has changed my life,” it reads. “Who would have ever thought I would be so fortunate to be a part of the cast … The impact of this show has touched my family, students and many others.”

This is the first year that Busco isn’t directing “Cries of Freedom,” a musical production that highlights the cost and importance of freedom by examining historical figures who have given all they had to secure liberty for themselves, their people, and the generations that would come. 

Busco co-wrote the musical with Scott Swain, both of whom have been with the Freedom Festival for nearly two decades. Originally, Busco directed, while Swain produced, and his wife, Leann Swain rounded the team out as the musical director. This year, with Busco having stepped down, the team is completed by the addition of Krista Johannesmeyer, the show’s new director.

“We hope that when people see ‘Cries of Freedom,’ that they take away a greater love for America, a greater love for their own personal freedom, and a deeper appreciation of those who have gone before us and fought for us,” Busco says. “Some audience members weep; even the performers do. They come off the stage, and they just hug each other because it’s been such a phenomenal experience. People stay and talk and shake hands with veterans. It’s a fantastic experience.”

Busco is a retired fifth-grade teacher who used to make it a point to teach patriotism to her students. Each week she would meet with the fifth and sixth graders, talking about the positive ideas behind America — what it meant to them, what it stood for, what they felt it should stand for.

It was through teaching that she became acquainted with Swain, who asked for her help with his gallery of patriotic memorabilia. It was then when the idea for the musical was hatched, and Busco felt that patriotism needed to come alive. Together they began writing something to be used in the classroom, but they both knew it needed to be more than that.

“She wanted something that would capture the drama about why people are willing to die to be free,” Scott Swain said. “When facing absolute tyranny, you’ve got to be absolutely committed to freedom. We wanted to document these people who have died to be free.”

The musical has evolved over the years, some cast members even providing original numbers for the production. Last year, an old Osmond Brothers track that Busco fell in love with titled, “I Love America,” was added with permission from Nathan Osmond.

Despite the changes throughout the years, the message has always been the same. At their hearts, Busco and Swain are self-proclaimed patriots who want to remind people of the cost and passion behind the liberties they enjoy.

“We want people to become true Americans,” Swain said. “We want them to recommit themselves to the idea of freedom, because that’s what America stands for. Forget politics and rhetoric and commercialism, just realize what America is really about — and I think it’s about helping people live a free life.”

The event has grown beyond the musical. Hosted at the SCERA Park in Orem, the Cries of Freedom event includes performances by a swing band, as well as actors posing as historical figures like George Washington, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. All are available for people to meet and greet. A somber “Walk of Freedom,” highlights the more than 200 Utah Servicemen and women who have died in active combat since 2001. There is also an immigrant experience that invites attendees to reach certain milestones of freedom to gain a deeper understanding of what it takes for people to become American citizens.

“This is an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration,” says Swain. “We hope they’ll come and feel the passion and understand the roots that we come from.”

The “Cries of Freedom” musical performs three times a day, Thursday, July 4 through Saturday, July 6. Additional events are open throughout the day.

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