The director of Corvallis High School’s production of “The Music Man,” Laura Beck-Ard, has a collection of photos of "Main Street U.S.A." towns at Disneylands around the world on her tablet. She has favorite versions of the theme park slice of Americana — notably the one from Hong Kong Disneyland.
The colorful versions of an idealized American 1912 town were Beck-Ard’s inspiration for the set of CHS’ production of the 1957 musical about con man Harold Hill selling musical instruments in a small Iowa town. Beck-Ard said she wanted the set for the show, which is set in 1912, to look like the quintessential Midwestern farming town, with bright welcoming colors.
“It had to look like the place you wanted to live,” she said.
The set features seven moving two-story buildings.
“It’s the biggest set we’ve ever had,” she said.
The scale of the set mirrors the scale of the show, which has 74 actors, including both students from CHS and Crescent Valley High School, and community members; 16 technicians; an orchestra with 15 musicians; and a production team of 12.
“The biggest trick with this show is not running over one of the actors with the seven moving pieces,” she said.
According to Beck-Ard, the show’s message is about believing in yourself.
“It’s such a fun show that’s got a great message,” she said.
The show opens tonight at 7 p.m. at CHS’ main stage, at 1400 N.W. Buchanan Ave., and runs through March 8, with 7 p.m. performances Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets for adults and seniors are $13, for students 12 to 19 tickets are $10, for youths age 5 to 11 tickets are $8, and kids are $4.
Beck-Ard said the cast is costumed in period-appropriate clothing, and they’ve been working on developing the mannerisms of the time. She’s even had the cast watch the PBS special the “Manners of Downton Abbey,” because there is some overlap in how people behaved in America at the time.
Jake Miller, a CHS junior who plays the show’s male lead, said he had to learn an entirely new posture and stride to play the conniving Howard Hill.
“I’m a nice guy and it’s hard being a guy who is tricking everyone,” he said.
Miller said he’s worked hard to understand Hill’s motivations so that he could get into the character.
Miller was in previous Corvallis School District productions of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” but this is his first major role.
“It’s a great experience and I love to lead people. It’s really nice to see all these people and influence them.”
Heather McNutt-Kaestner, a CHS senior, plays the female lead, the smart librarian Marian who sees through Hill’s con.
McNutt-Kaestner describes herself as a character actor and said that for her the challenge was to play the pretty ingénue.
“I make a lot of weird faces so I have to tone down my face,” she said.
She said her focus was on exploring Marian as a character with more dimensions than some of her past roles.
“It’s interesting to see how her interactions go from sharp with Harold to nice at home,” she said.
McNutt-Kaestner said she wants to study communications in a college with a good theater program, so she can keep acting, but she’s not decided on a school yet.
She added that the role has been demanding, taking up as many as 18 hours a week, but the cast has been supportive.
“I probably see Ms. B (Beck-Ard) more than I see my mom,” she said.
McNutt-Kaestner said she likes that Corvallis high school productions are community shows because they raise the level of the shows. She added that she likes working with the variety of ages the community production brings in. She said she once needed chopsticks to wear in her hair with her costume and 72-year-old cast member Bob Snyder brought her in a couple packages of chop sticks the next day.
“That’s (the kind of thing) that’s beautiful about our show."
Snyder, who was in “Fiddler on the Roof” last year, said being involved in the shows is so much fun that he had to come back for another show. He said he admires the talent and enthusiasm of the actors with whom he works.
“At the end of the show I feel like I’ve got a lot of grandkids.”
Snyder said he thinks people should see the show because it is a great high energy production with lots of memorable songs.
“It will transport you back to 1912 no matter what age you are,” he said.