Justin Ruffridge would not be starring as the title character in this weekend’s production of “The Music Man” if not for a dare back in 2009.
Always interested in music, the Soldotna resident took a chance and joined the Kenai Performers and has since played several roles leading up to this one.
Directed by Terri Zopf-Schoessler and conducted by Dan Johnson, Ruffridge and all the Kenai Performers will perform the musical by Meredith Wilson, which tells the tale of traveling salesman Harold Hill and his attempt to con a rigid Iowa town into forming a marching band. The performers young and old will debut the songs and dance numbers they’ve been perfecting since September beginning Friday and continuing with performances Saturday and Sunday, and on March 4, 5 and 6.
Zopf-Schoessler said the Kenai Performers did take on “The Music Man” in the early 2000s, but that the show was worth revisiting in her third straight year directing a musical for the Kenai Performers.
“I don’t want to do a show I don’t like, and I love this show,” she said.
The musical was written as Meredith Wilson’s “Valentine” to the small-town America in which he grew up, Zopf-Schoessler said. The moment in time that it portrays is one of several things for audience members to look forward to, she said.
“Great music, good storyline and a slice of true Americana,” Zopf-Schoessler said of the musical. “It’s 1912 and it’s the last of that golden American Midwest Iowa stubborn values. In two years, World War I starts, and so America’s place in the world changes forever.”
Most people involved in the production, from Johnson and the orchestra to the directors, costume designers and actors, are wearing multiple hats and helping out in different capacities, Zopf-Schoessler said.
Though she personally began preparing more than a year in advance for the musical, the whole team has been practicing three times a week for close to six months.
“We juggle all this with family and jobs,” she said.
Ruffridge echoed the sentiment that those involved with the Kenai Performers often take on more than one job or role.
“Every year I do this I learn something, which is cool,” Ruffridge said. “Everyone here is all hands on deck so you learn set building, you learn music, you learn how to act backstage, dancing — holy smokes, that’s not something I’m comfortable with, but you learn it.”
Ruffridge became one of those members juggling his day job and rehearsals when, after growing up taking piano lessons and fostering an interest in music, he joined the Kenai Performers to play an undertaker in a production of “Oliver!” on a dare.
“I remember going to see actually the Kenai Performers production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and I was like ‘Dang, they look like they’re having a great time,’ and I was surprised that they were all from here,” he said.
Ruffridge, who said he was surprised to learn he’d been cast as Hill, said the part has presented a number of new challenges compared to his past work with the acting group.
“Harold Hill does a lot of different stuff musically than any of the other characters I’ve played,” he said. “He has to somehow be a con man but lovable at the same time … And the songs that he sings are just fun, upbeat, really lively. He’s always just pushing the pace kind of, and I think a lot of that is ‘cause he knows that if he stops or slows down, the police will catch him.”
The set for “The Music Man” is the largest Zopf-Schoessler has ever used.
“Usually I’m pretty minimalist, and this time we just went full on (for the) set,” she said.
Aside from upbeat musical numbers and elaborate costumes, those who attend the play can look forward to an escape from the less-than-cheerful winter weather, Ruffridge said.
“The people that I talk to, I tell them that it’s fun,” he said. “And I mean at this time of year especially, it’s why I even do this, is because it’s something to get the mind off the fact that it’s winter and it’s February, and you can come in here, you can be in a different place, you can listen to great music and just have a good time for two hours.”
Ticket prices, which Zopf-Schoessler said had to be raised for the first time in several years, are $25 for the general public and $20 for students and senior citizens. Performances will take place at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 3 p.m on Sundays.
All performances will take place in the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School.
Tickets can be purchased at the door or at Curtain Call Consignment, Charlotte’s Restaurant and River City Books.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.