Younger audiences who may not be familiar with the 1950s classic musical “Bye Bye Birdie” are in for a treat when Lewisburg High School stages the production this weekend, according to senior Abbie Carney.
“Not everyone from my generation is familiar with it, but I think they will be pleasantly surprised once they see it and hear the music,” she said. “It’s a feel-good show with a lot of comedic lines and fun, catchy songs. It also has a happy ending, and who doesn’t love the ’50s? I guarantee that everyone will leave the show humming the tunes for days afterward.”
The show, which loosely looks back on popular musician and social icon Elvis Presley during the time he is being drafted into the Army, was selected during a summer group meeting.
“When we meet to discuss which musical to run, we all bring a list of ideas with us — this year, every single one of us had ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ on our list,” said Sarah Tiede, director of the musical. “I was worried how the students were going to receive it, but when I told them, they squealed and applauded. I certainly didn’t expect that reaction, but it is as solid, feel-good show with a lot of humor that appeals to a wide audience.”
Another reason the show was selected was due to a tight window for preparation.
“Lewisburg is hosting the PMEA (Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) regional band next weekend, therefore we had to have an early musical and a short season,” said Tiede. “Trying to pull off a magical Disney extravaganza in a two-month window would be next to impossible.”
Not that “Bye Bye Birdie” hasn’t required a lot of work. Students have been rehearsing three to five times per week depending on their roles, according to Tiede. The group does eight-hour set builds on Saturdays along with long hours working behind the scenes. The students also learned 80 percent of the choreography in a one-week bootcamp each night the week before Christmas.
“This musical especially has a lot of dancing in it, so trying to make sure everyone has the steps is challenging,” said Emily Alico, who is pulling double-duty as the show’s dance captain while also playing the character Kim Macafee — who goes through 12 costume changes during the program. “Everyone has been willing to learn their parts, and everyone has worked so hard to get it just right.”
Senior Peter Marrara plays Conrad Birdie — the show’s Elvis Presley role — which has been challenging in itself, he admitted.
“It’s hard to imitate Elvis, yet still put your own touches into the character,” he said. “To get into the character, I watched a lot of Elvis videos and devoted a lot of time to getting the voice and hip movements down.”
Meanwhile, Nick Jacobson plays promoter Albert Peterson — a character trapped between a girlfriend who is ready to settle down (Rose Alvarez, played by Carney) and his overbearing mother.
“One of the most difficult aspects of Albery is that he spends most of the show fluctuating between boundless enthusiasm for his talents and meek subservience to his mother,” he said, adding that “Bye Bye Birdie” delves into a variety of topics that will resonate with audiences.
“The show deals with many of the problems we still face today. The show’s approach to gender roles, diversity and tolerance are certain to leave audiences with much to think about. Simultaneously, the pursuit of the ever-changing American Dream is a quest that almost all the characters in the show take up — and something we still strive for today.”
For Carney, this show is especially emotional since it will be her last on the Lewisburg stage.
“Being on stage has always been a huge passion for me, but being up there for my last time is bittersweet,” she said. “I get to share the stage with friends I’ve been with since kindergarten. This is one of our last hurrahs, so to speak. It has been an incredible journey for me.”
It has been for Tiede, as well, not just because of the students who devote so much to the show, but also for the extended team of parents and other volunteers who prepare food for students, help sew, build sets, find props, run the concession stand, sell tickets and run numerous other errands.
“Everyone does an incredible amount of work to put on a musical,” she said. “When you think about it, it’s all for three performances. Hundreds of hours of preparation by hundreds of people all for six hours of glory — and it is worth every second.”
For more information about the show, including ordering tickets, visit www.lewisburgmusical.org