By the time the Rhythm of the Rails opens its latest song-and-dance production July 12, its cast will have earned its stripes as carpenters, set painters and structural engineers.
Over the past several months, the community theater troupe and its volunteers have reconstructed the massive two-story set severely damaged in last August's memorable windstorm.
Each component -- 12 feet by 18 feet -- replicates a building from Brainerd's downtown at the turn of the last century, five in all, including the Last Turn Saloon, the Globe Hotel and Linneman's Clothing.
The reconstructed version is designed as a permanent installation at the troupe's downtown stage, the 125- by 60-foot concrete slab left over from a dismantled building at 303 Front St.
The saloon, hotel and clothing store have been restored, but the remaining components of the original set have been replaced by a replica of another historic saloon and the Alderman Hardware Store, Jody Crowe, the troupe's found and director, said this week.
The Alderman building comes from a more recent time than the others in the set, Crowe said, but "we wanted to recognize Jim and Betty Alderman for their support of our troupe."
The Aldermans, who operated the downtown hardware store for several years, retired in recent years but remain active in many civic and arts related organizations.
With reconstruction under way, Crowe and his troupe decided to go several steps more to improve the set, he said.
They constructed a 32- by 16-foot painted replica of the railroad depot that served Brainerd until fire destroyed it in 1917. The two-dimensional structure will serve as a backdrop for the stage, bounded on the wings by the downtown buildings.
A 32-foot-long loading dock also has been added to the set as a secondary performance area about 16 inches higher than the main stage.
The troupe also bought 150 plastic lawn chairs for its audience, which sits at ground level in front of the outdoor venue.
Crowe and others founded Rhythm of the Rails five years ago to commemorate Brainerd's historical connection to the railroad industry, producing vaudevillian style variety shows each year.
In the early years, the shows were presented on the street in front of the downtown senior center. But the community theater company leased a county-owned building and land a few blocks west of the center for a permanent site.
The giant outdoor set was built and used for the first time last summer, and was designed for removal at the end of the production run.
Before it could be dismantled, however, a major storm blew through Brainerd in August, destroying much of the structure and damaging several other buildings in the area.
This summer's production runs July 12-14, 19-22 and 26-28. All shows begin at 8 p.m. except a 4 p.m. call July 22. Tickets are available at the gate for $6 for adults, $4 for children ages 7-12, and free for children 6 and under.
Directed and scripted by Crowe, the show is divided between a series of skits in the first half and several song-and-dance numbers in the second half.
A period piece, the 90-minute show will feature a cast of 24, all dressed in costumes consistent with Brainerd in 1900. Renee Anderson of Pequot Lakes is the troupe's music director, and Sharon Hartley of Brainerd serves as Crowe's assistant director. Gloria Hobbs of Brainerd is in charge of choreography.
Crowe said the show has been successful in the past because "the cast members are all people with a passion to perform. And our shows are affordable family fun."
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