“Harvey” at Opera House - Beck tackles another iconic role

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Rehearsing a scene from an upcoming production of “Harvey” are, from left: Dave Beck, Donna Anderson, Gayle Moore and Peggy Lane.

One of Dave Beck’s favorite Opera House roles was Donkey to Jonathan Moser’s Shrek.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor 

Northeast Iowa man who is no stranger to playing iconic characters will tackle a much beloved one when the Elkader Opera House Players open their run of “Harvey.”

Dave Beck, Elkader, stars as Elwood P. Dowd, an eccentric man whose best friend is a tall, invisible rabbit named Harvey, whom he introduces to everyone he meets. The late actor Jimmy Stewart immortalized the character on the big screen. He earned a best actor Oscar nomination for his work.

Beck’s last role was Donkey in the musical “Shrek.”

“Playing Elwood P. Dowd is a big challenge,” said Beck. “For those who know the show with Jimmy Stewart I think there will be some expectation to play the character in a similar fashion. However, I don’t like to copy a character. The need for inspiration is there in the beginning but then the development of the character for this show needs to be based on the director’s vision.”

Craig Strutt is directing the production. He approves of Beck’s approach to playing Dowd, which, for Strutt, centers around a single, memorable line from the show: “My mother always told me, ‘Elwood, in this life you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. I recommend pleasant.’”

“Dave and I have been working hard on making sure his character never shows anything but kindness and genuine interest in every person he encounters,” Strutt said. “Interactions with some of these other ‘normal’ characters can make that difficult at times, but Dave is really doing well at pulling it off.”

Beck is a life-long Elkader resident known to many as one of the several cheery, helpful people working at FreedomBank. An accomplished pianist, he has been with the Opera House Players since 2002 when he was recruited to play the piano for the show “Stardust.”

“After ‘Stardust,’ I was in the pit orchestra for the following two musical productions,” Beck added. He moved from pit to stage in November 2003 when he was asked to take on the part of McGovern in “The Governor’s Son,” which was produced for the theatre’s 100th anniversary. 

Beck has accompanied seven shows and has been onstage in another 18. His favorite roles have been Fagin (“Oliver!”), Bun Foo (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a role that challenged him to learn some Mandarin), and Donkey.

When he’s rehearsing for a role, Beck really gets into character. He memorizes his lines by rehearsing them at home—often aloud and sometimes with appropriate mannerisms.

“My neighbors probably have me pegged for a nut if they see me cavorting around the house,” he admitted.

Bringing Elwood P. Dowd to life has been a joy for Beck, adding that the character has taken on some of his traits and he has assumed some of Elwood’s. He hopes patrons sense (and share) the fun had by the entire cast.

“I hope people will say that we worked well as a cast and it looked like we had fun,” Beck said. “We have a very good director, well-cast actors and a good technical crew to back us up. It’s gonna’ be a great show.”

“Harvey” has long been a favorite of Strutt’s and he hopes patrons will feel the same way after seeing it.

“This year, more than most, a show that celebrates civility and being pleasant is something to be enjoyed,” Strutt said. “I’m looking forward to sharing a story that can make you laugh at what the world considers normal, while helping us all see what is really important as we go through life.”

“Harvey” opens April 8 at the historic Elkader Opera House. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. There will also be evening performances on April 9, 14, 15 and 16. A matinee is scheduled for April 10 at 2 p.m. More information is available at www.ElkaderOperaHouse.com.

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