Naselle school overcomes obstacles to produce big Broadway playNASELLE, Wash. - If only Impressionist Degas were alive to paint the backstage at the school production of "The Music Man."

A dozen young girls squeeze in front of a big-screen television that oozes multicolored static. Half a dozen boys crowd around a Pokemon game. Sewing machines whir, actors exchange jackets, hats and props, actresses rifle through hangers for dresses.

Degas' painting might look a bit more like Jackson Pollock's splattered canvases.

There are no ballerinas, only Megan Agee, 9, who jets through the hallway, arms extended like an un-masked avenger in pink.

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"Harold Hill's" love interest "Marian Paroo," played by Abbie Smith, right, warms to him because he helps her little brother "Winthrop," played by 9-year-old Trevin Leeland. Pam Stoutenburg, left, plays "Mrs. Paroo."

Megan is in awe of the theater, but that doesn't stop her from commenting on her brush with stardom at Naselle-Grays River Valley School, where all 12 grades attend class. "Me and Nicole put up the flag with Abbie every day."

Abbie Smith, a senior, bounded off the basketball team, which placed seventh at state this year, to play Marian Paroo, the female lead.

"I'm kind of nervous about it," she says.

Smith, a natural alto, trained her voice to grasp high-soprano peaks performed in the film by Shirley Jones. Band director Tom Lee helped Smith stretch her voice. Lee also sings and acts as a barbershop quartet member.

IF YOU GO..."The Music Man Junior"

Where: Naselle-Grays River Valley School

When: 7 p.m. Friday and

Saturday, May 2-3 and May 9-10

Doors open at 6 p.m.

Cost: $7 for adults, $4 for students

Info: Barbara Swanson,

(360) 484-3602

Tickets: Chera Anderson,

(360) 484-3645"The Music Man" is the story of traveling salesman Harold Hill who swoops in to River City, Iowa, and sweeps the townspeople up in his scheme to develop a marching band as an alternative to the ultimate 1912 evil - pool.

Hill (played in the film by Robert Preston) pursues Marian, "madam librarian," who scorns his advances, but eventually caves when she sees the excitement of her younger brother Winthrop upon joining the band.

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The unmistakable "Harold Hill," played by Robin Andrea II, and "Marcellus Washburn" played by Brian Safstrom, make plans for the town of River City, Iowa. After a few weeks and some collective crooning for the Wells Fargo wagon, citizens, including Mayor Shinn and his wife Eulalie, begin to wonder: Where are the instruments?

Composer Meredith Willson based "The Music Man," which hit Broadway in 1957 and the screen in 1962, on his Midwestern childhood. Naselle's play is a truncated version of the original three-hour spectacle. Music Theater International designed it specifically for schools. But with a school the size of Naselle, a little over 300 students, director Barbara Swanson received permission to cast adults and make it a community affair. Adult Kristy Leeland choreographed the show with help from a student, Kelly Revis. Greg Nelson and Debbie Littlefield and students assisted with sets.

Pam Stoutenburg who plays Marian Paroo's mother, has appeared in several shows in Astoria, but says performing on her home turf is a pleasure.

Swanson, who also teaches kindergarten and choir, says the concept of staging plays began when her choir concerts evolved more and more into Broadway-like productions.

"Wouldn't this be exciting if we turned this into a real Broadway musical?" she used to muse.

The school had a few obstacles. It had no drama program and musicals usually require large casts - too large for Naselle. But three years ago, Swanson recruited a few community members to act in "Annie" and last year, "Fiddler on the Roof." Each year the cast becomes bigger and the talent extends further. This year, the 50-member cast includes third graders through middle-agers.

Many of the costumes were sewn by adults Janet Darcher and Kathy Fauver, who owns Custom Threads in Chinook, Wash. As actors dash around a multipurpose room, which doubles as the backstage, Fauver's sewing machine whizzes into the evening, finishing the last few costumes.

"I probably put in 10 hours or something, if you don't count tonight," says Fauver, who volunteered her services. "I've been sitting here since 5."

As the community participation extends, so does the audience in the 300-seat auditorium. "We pack them in here," Swanson says.

This is the first year a high school boy has taken the lead. Senior Robin Andrea II plays Harold Hill and has wanted to act "forever." Andrea moved from Astoria to Naselle this year when his father took a job as principal of the Naselle Youth Camp school. In addition to stretching his vocal talent, Andrea plays football and basketball.

"In Astoria, you couldn't do it because of sports," he says.

Now, he seems to spend forever rehearsing the play - about five to 10 hours in addition to scheduled rehearsals each week.

"People would say, 'What are we (rehearsing) tonight?'" Andrea says. "I would say, 'I don't know. I have to be there. I have to be there every day of the week.'"

As Andrea discusses the play, he constantly follows the stage action. At a break between sentences, he pauses, "I'll be right back."

The boy dashes off and bounds the steps to the cafeteria stage in time to interact with the crowd of cast members who cram the stage in an ensemble scene.

"You really ought to give Iowa a chance," they sing.

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