There's nothing smarmy about Tom Lanning. The smile the Jay M. Robinson High School sophomore eases into when he finds something funny is genuine, and what you see, usually a standard white T-shirt, baggy gym shorts and black socks pulled up to his calves, is what you get.
Likewise, there's not much standoffish about Meagan Holmes. Ask any of her high school classmates and that's the last word they would use to describe the outgoing and friendly senior.
But come this weekend, audiences will see smarmy and standoffish when they look on stage at the pair, where Lanning, 15, and Holmes, 18, will play Harold Hill and Marian Paroo, the lead roles in Jay M. Robinson High School's production of "The Music Man."
New to the theater, Lanning said he couldn't be more different from slick, smooth-talking salesman Harold Hill, who orchestrates a scheme to swindle the townspeople by promising to teach music lessons to the tone-deaf.
Lanning is better known around school as a musician. "I play the tuba, cool as that sounds," said Lanning with a grin.
For the show's director, Annie Boger, casting for the lead became obvious when Lanning stepped onstage during tryouts.
"He just stood out," she said. "When he auditioned for the role we were like, hands down, it's him. That's Harold."
It's a challenging role, said Lanning, who has performed only one other time onstage, as the Spoon in last year's school production of "Beauty and the Beast."
"It takes a long time to really develop and get yourself into the character, because I'm normally more of a reserved person," said Lanning.
By contrast, his co-star, Meagan Holmes, grew up in the theater.
Holmes has been acting since the age of 9, and while many of her peers were playing soccer or t-ball, she was more interested in the line deliverance and stage presence courses offered at Old Courthouse Theatre in Concord. Her first role came at age 11 in OCT's "Charlotte's Web." Since then, she has been in countless productions, including "Peter Pan" and "Beauty and the Beast," where, as the Wardrobe, she first acted with Lanning.
Holmes, who is on track to study theater at UNC Charlotte in the fall, plans to turn acting into a career.
With each role, she takes an analytical approach to understanding the character's motivations. "The wardrobe was an opera singer, and I picture opera singers as very big, flamboyant people," said Holmes, whose arms began to gesture outward and voice took upon an air of grandness as she described the operatic character.
For Marian Paroo, Holmes wrote a background story to draw upon, and it's enough to explain her every move.
"She's this strong woman in the household," she said. "Her mother was widowed, and she doesn't have a man. And she's the only one with a steady job, so she feels like she doesn't have time for love."
To both Lanning and Holmes, pretending to be others has become a wonderful escape.
"It's like stepping into another person's shoes, and really being able to be somebody else," said Lanning.
"It's a blast," said Holmes. "Just getting to lose yourself in a character is always fun."