HALSTEAD — Pride beamed out of Claire Clifford's face and her joyful shout rung out to the dozens of young faces that looked her way after singing a song.
"Yes! That's it! You've got it," Clifford said.
Clifford is directing her fourth annual children's musical as part of Halstead's Old Settlers festival.
The project is one that she takes on each summer, volunteering her time outside of her usual work teaching vocal music in Halstead's schools.
"I think it's quite the thing," Cilfford said.
It would seem the youth of Halstead agree, as this year's production,"The Music Man," is being performed by a cast of 63 children between the ages of 5 and 15.
"We've grown by about 10 to 15 kids every year," Clifford said.
Each year, more and more students want to be a part of the show because many of their friends are involved.
"Now, kids know what it is and talk about it all school year," Clifford said.
While similar programs recoup production costs by selling tickets and requiring a participation fee from the actors, the children's musical is paid for by donations.
"We charge nothing and the kids get charged nothing — this is all by donation," Clifford said.
The city of Halstead pays the bulk of the musical's production costs, with the children using donation envelopes to collect what they can.
"I tell them, 'even if you only get $20, that is a big deal.' Some get none, some get $20 and some get $50," Clifford said. "Every year, we do our best to get at least $300 worth of donations."
That figure is a drop in the bucket compared to final costs — just getting the rights to perform a musical can bring a price tag of around $1,000. Clifford borrows what costumes, props and set pieces she can find and shops thrift stores for those she cannot find.
As she leads rehearsals, Clifford talks to the children about the importance of the roles they play — not only as fictional characters, but as actors with a responsibility to the audience.
"This is your show. I had the idea, but now it's your show," Clifford said.
Despite a near-endless barrage of questions from the children during the rehearsal process, she keeps an even keel and answers each one — even when it is a request for a bandage from the first aid kit she keeps close at hand.
"I love them all so much," Clifford said. "Sometimes people say, 'you're like their second mom.'"
The children's musical is moving from its previous outdoor venue this year to provide its audience with a climate-controlled environment.
"The Music Man" will be performed at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Halstead Community Center, 328 Main St. and at 7 p.m. Friday at Halstead High School, 520 W. Sixth St. There is no charge, but Sunday's audience is encouraged to purchase $5 wristbands to enjoy all the Old Settlers activities in Halstead this weekend.