jill torrance / arizona daily star

With a mix of a loving grandmother's guidance and the stern bark of a drill sergeant, Rosemary Snow instructs her three young stage students.

"Step, step, turn. Not so fast. Come on, come on, let's go. Rayven, stay in a row and don't go faster," Snow's voice booms off the stage inside the Red Barn.

It's not really a barn, but it's really red on the outside. Inside is a small stage house where children from around town come for musical lessons and to practice what the energetic Snow teaches. In addition, the Red Barn is the community playhouse where people of all kinds and talent perform plays, including popular Broadway musicals.

Located on North Main Avenue in the Dunbar-Spring neighborhood, just north of Downtown, the Red Barn has served as a community cultural center for 15 years, ever since Snow bought the building. It at one time was a bar, a grocery store and a World War II-era juke joint for black U.S. soldiers when the military was segregated.

In addition to Snow's work with children, Joanne Anderson, who has been in theater for 40 years, stages musicals and plays several times a year. Anderson works with volunteer actors, some of whom are amateurs and others who are seasoned.

"We're one of the best-kept theater secrets in town," said Anderson, who is staging the musical, "The King and I." The play will be performed nine times over three weekends beginning May 1.

On a Thursday night, Amber Velez, 8, Mei Strehlow, 7, and Rayven Evans, 9, practiced their song and dance steps with Snow. It was a frenetic but fun pace.

"She's always doing six things at the same time," said Golda Velez, Amber's mom. Amber, who attends second grade at Borton Magnet Primary School, has taken music lessons from Snow and recently performed in "Mary Poppins."

Velez said the Red Barn is a good place for her daughter to develop her skills at little cost to the family. Snow doesn't charge for the stage work but does charge for private lessons.

Hillary Dawsey, Rayven's mom, said Snow and the Red Barn are the real deal.

"This provides her (Rayven) with opportunities," Dawsey said. Moreover, she likes Snow's direct style with her daughter, a third-grader at Tully Elementary School.

"She's a spitfire chick," Dawsey said of Snow, who is in her mid-70s. "I like her dedication, and she's not afraid to be strict with the girls."

The parents like the close-knit and safe environment Snow creates in the Red Barn.

Snow tutors the girls in various songs and dances for a musical revue that will hit the Tucson roads and nursing homes where they'll entertain.

But before they venture out, there are songs and steps to be practiced. She tells them the songs are not hard to learn. The music is simply new to them, Snow adds.

"When you do the mambo, you got to say "ugh," Snow tells the girls during their rehearsal. Snow shuffles her feet and says "ugh."

"I don't know why but all mambos go 'ugh,' " Snow says.

Contact reporter Ernesto Portillo Jr. at 807-8414 or eportillo@azstarnet.com.