Elias Cerdas (Barnaby Tucker) spins in the air as he dances in rehearsal for Laguna Beach High School's production of "Hello, Dolly!" at the Artists Theatre. (DON LEACH, Coastline Pilot / March 12, 2013)

A matchmaker meets her biggest challenge in "Hello, Dolly!," the latest production taken on by Laguna Beach High School's Park Avenue Players that opens this weekend.

The play, which takes place at the turn of the century in New York, first debuted in 1964 on Broadway and has had the likes of Carol Channing and Barbara Streisand play the lead.

This time around, senior Haley Castuera is in the lead role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widow who matches lonely singles with their "perfect partners."

"The hardest part was acting older," Haley said over the phone earlier this week.

It was subtle but important things the 18-year-old had to get used to.

"Speaking slower, not moving as much when I talk," Haley continued. "Just getting into the mind set that you've been on this planet that long and what you might have seen and experienced."

Haley, who is headed to Boston University in the fall, is no newbie to theater and acting — she's been in a number of productions since childhood and most recently had a leading role in the school's production of "The Sound of Music."

She listened to music of the 1960s — Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, George Gershwin and Louis Armstrong — to give her perspective on people of that era pretending to be those of the turn of the century.

"The dialogue is a lot different than any other show I've done," she said. "It's very fast-paced, old language....very corny and really old phrases you haven't heard in a while.

"I definitely have opened up in real life from playing [Dolly] because she is such an open, outgoing character and I feel like it's bled into my life a little bit."

Choosing "Hello, Dolly," was an educational move on the part of director and drama teacher Mark Dressler.

"First of all, you have to look at the kids who you have to do the show, and I felt like we had the cast to do it, " Dressler said.

"Hello, Dolly!" contrasted with the style of musical productions done previously, he added. Last year, the high school did "The Sound of Music," and earlier this year, it did "Grease."

"One of the reasons I picked this play was for the breadth of education," Dressler said.

"Hello, Dolly!" is known for being a more lavish production in terms of costumes, set design, dance and music numbers. Not many high schools tend to attempt such a show, but Dressler wanted the students to be challenged.

"We designed the set and built it ourselves," he said. "... Another reason why we chose ["Hello, Dolly!"] was the music for musicians, because they are getting an opportunity to play this fantastic Jerry Herman score."

The crew, who Dressler calls outstanding, will use a fly system (where scenery and set designs are on ropes and flown in and out between scenes).

"To be on the crew of a show like this, you have to be on the ball, plan ahead," he added. "There's a whole system of hierarchy among the kids. People don't realize that 90% of a show happens backstage."

Tuesday night, Dressler plan to run the cast through a full dress rehearsal to work out the timing of music and stagecraft, he said.

It's been a busy past couple of weeks for the students.