Take a rollicking stroll through the late 1950’s at Orange Park Community Theatre’s production of Bye Bye Birdie. The American classic is in good hands with director Shelley Hayes, who’s worked with OPCT since 2001.
The original Broadway play is quite different from the beloved 1963 film adaptation starring Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke. Both stories are based on Elvis’s 1957 army draft and the chaos that ensued among crazed teenaged girls of the time.
The musical opens in the offices of the Almaelou record company. Agent Albert Peterson, played by Josh Katzman, is distraught. He’s entered the office only to find that his company’s biggest star, Conrad Birdie, has entered the army. Through a highly physical performance, Katzman impressively sets the tension of the play upon the rising of the curtain. Albert’s secretary-turned-girlfriend Rose Alvarez (played by Jennifer O’Brien) schemes to find a way to attract the public’s attention before Conrad sets off. But all Rose wants is for Albert to give up the record industry and become “An English Teacher,” which O’Brien sings with longing.
Rose decides that Conrad should bestow “One Last Kiss” upon a lucky girl from Birdie’s Fan Club. She calls Sweet Apple, Ohio to reach fifteen-year-old Kim McAfee, played by Samantha Jenkins, to share the good news. Despite the fact that Kim has just taken the pin of Hugo Peabody (played by Jeremy Ferri), deciding to go steady with him, she cannot contain her excitement for a chance to kiss the one and only Conrad Birdie. Jenkins’ conflicted feelings and Ferri’s need to impress Kim are apparent throughout the play, growing to a compelling climax in the second act. These young actors provide riveting emotional performances.
The title character Conrad Birdie, who is played by Evan Bowen, provides the audience with plenty of hip shakin’ fun in his metallic gold jumpsuit. Bowen even riffs on the electric guitar during his performance. Missy Losure, the show’s choreographer, dances hilariously as Sally DeBorde (Mrs. Peterson) hums along to the tune of “Swanee River.”
The show’s unsung heroes are the MacAfees—Stephen Lowe (Mr. MacAfee), Karen Coughlin (Mrs. MacAfee), and Allister Jones (Randolph)—who sing to the heavens upon being told that they’re impending guests on The Ed Sullivan Show.
An audience favorite is actor Gannon Thomas, who portrays the role of the misunderstood, unapologetically dorky Harvey Johnson. Thomas utilizes his character’s despair as stage business, a way to interact with other characters in various scenes.
The actors often enter the aisles to spread the high energy of the show close-up, an excellent blocking choice on Director Shelley Hayes’ behalf. The costumes, designed by Sandy Summerton, bring the late 1950’s setting to life—pastel shades, letterman sweaters, and poodle skirts galore.
The production’s greatest asset is its young, energetic cast. Most actors are school-aged. Their energy adds to the historic flashback of Elvis’ fans. The gaggle of young actors certainly give it their all while screaming and fainting for Conrad Birdie, singing, “We love you, Conrad, oh yes, we do” with excited repetition. Bailey Myers, who plays Kim’s friend Ursula Merkle, releases an impressively sustained scream over the phone. Lily Bain tap dances with an intentional frown in the Van Dyke classic “Put On a Happy Face.”
On the other hand, our ingénue, Kim (Samantha Jenkins), wishes to seem older as the show progresses. In Act One, she childishly laments, “How Lovely To Be a Woman.” But by the show’s falling action, it is clear through Jenkins’ movements that Kim yearns to be older—an impressive transition for a high-school-aged actor.
Rose Alvarez is perhaps the most complicated character in Bye Bye Birdie’s story. The audience has the pleasure of following actor Jennifer O’Brien on her journey in finding Rose’s truth—does it lie with Albert, or not? O’Brien’s acting performance is as compelling as her singing.
Bye Bye Birdie’s cast includes Emily Poehlman (Helen), Elizabeth Gerhardt (Principal Dancer), Theresa Buchanan (Mrs. Merkle), Maria Masters (Deborah Sue), Aria Ciccotelli (Nancy), Cait Couch (Alice), Cameron Clemons (Margie), Darlene Noel (Penelope), and Danielle Summerton (Suzie).
The ensemble is held up by Amanda Bain, Larkin Breitner, Steve Cohn, Tim DeBorde, Tom DeBorde, Madeline Gamel, Samuel Gamel, Elizabeth Gerhardt, Colin Harden, Nichole Hartley, Amelie Hibbert, Estelle Jones, Anna King, Madaline Krawchuk, Vicki Lowe, Jordan O’Brien, Debbie Stithem, and Ethan Walls.
The production’s live orchestra, which includes piano from Charlie Mann, winds from Heather Baerga, and drums from Todd Low gives the musical a more live feeling. The production crew includes Vicki Lowe (Producer), Tim DeBorde (Musical Director), Missy Losure (Choreographer), Liz Gerhardt (Dance Captain), Gregory Barnes (Stage Manager), Jack Myers (Assistant Stage Manager), Ashleigh Lowe, Kyle Lowe, Skyler Matchette (Stage Crew), Tim DeBorde, Vicki Lowe, Joanne Quaile Brenner, Greg Barnes, Tom DeBorde, Mark Pellegrin (Set Design and Build), Tricia Williams (Lighting Design), Brandon Leporati & Aaron O’Brien (Lights and Sound), Sandy Summerton (Costume Design), Regina Manning, Michelle Jenkins, Sally DeBorde, and Vicki Lowe (Costumes).