OMS thespians say hello to ‘Bye, Bye Birdie’
To wash away the winter blues, why not “Put on a Happy Face,” and treat the entire family to the simply sweet Orefield Middle School performance of “Bye, Bye Birdie.”
This musical comedy with book by Michael Stewart, music by Charles Strouse, and lyrics by Lee Adams features many upbeat musical numbers as it follows Albert Peterson, a songwriter and music agent, who is about to lose his star teenage heart throb, Conrad Birdie, to the draft in the 1950s.
In an attempt to leave a lasting impression on the public and score a mega hit before Conrad heads off to war, Peterson takes Birdie to the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, with plans for a photo session and release of the song “One Last Kiss.”
With an Elvis-like star, a coming-of-age story, colorful costuming and sets, and a fast-paced combination of laughs, musical numbers and dancing, “Bye, Bye Birdie,” Young Performers’ Edition, is a show designed to entertain all ages.
Director of Visual and Performing Arts for the Parkland School District Mark Stutz took on the role of director at OMS this season.
He commented on the shift from the recently produced Disney or fantasy plays at OMS such as “James and the Giant Peach Jr.” and “Peter Pan Jr. to the more real-life characters of “Bye, Bye Birdie.”
“Disney is wonderful stuff to do,” Stutz said. “The kids certainly love it, but it becomes sort of expected with princesses, castles, etc.
“This show gives them the experience of playing real people, not the animated characters they have a vision of from watching a movie.
“As young actors it gives them some of the work that will teach them later on (if they continue doing this) about character work.”
Stutz said cast members looked to parents and other adults in their lives as inspiration for playing some of the adult roles — the kind of roles they will likely tackle as they make the transition to the high school theater experience.
“The dancing in this show without the animated characters is more of what you’re going to do in the high school,” he said.
Many of the leads in “Bye, Bye Birdie” are played by eighth graders who have graced the OMS stage and grown up along the way.
Emily Babinchak, the Narrator in “The Rules of Comedy,” Spider in “James and the Giant Peach Jr.,” and Tinkerbell in “Peter Pan Jr.” is one of those veteran Orefield Middle School performers.
She talked to The Press about her current role as the teenage Kim MacAfee.
“A lot of what we have done in the past have fantasy type shows,” said Babinchack. “This is a more Broadway-type show and a lot more realistic from anything we’ve done at least since “Grease Jr.”
“I think that this was really fun for us because it’s more challenging to try to really think about what an actual person and their character would do rather than a cartoon character.
“You have to make up the personality and fit yourself into the character. It was a fun adventure to figuring that out.”
Playing the role of Kim’s overprotective father, Mr. MacAfee, is eighth grader Robert Moore.
Moore made audiences laugh over the years with roles such as Earthworm in “James and the Giant Peach Jr.” and Dramaturge in “The Rules of Comedy.”
“In this show you can really kind of relate to the characters,” Moore said. “I looked at my family to prepare for this role.
“Because I’m playing an adult it’s not like I can just transform naturally.
“I took pieces from my uncle and my dad — a fatherly nature — and just transformed it from there.”
“My No. 1 thing was being protective. I’d say this was the longest time it took to form my character, but I’m really proud of the result where I can say this is Mr. MacAfee.”
The role of the ambitious Albert Peterson is played by Carter Sachse who has tackled roles including The Grasshopper in “James and the Giant Peach Jr.” and Hamlet in “The Rules of Comedy.”
“I think this role really fits me, I think this character is really upbeat,” Sachse said. “Albert is always really hyper and anxious about everything.
“He owns a music company that’s not going that well. He has his last star, Conrad Birdie, who is really the only person giving him an income, but Conrad is getting drafted into the service.”
Sachse did a great deal of preparation for this role and has been taking voice lessons for the past year in preparation for his future theater experiences.
“I do a lot of research before I go into the show,” he said. “I’ll watch the movie and videos online before I try out and it’s really helpful.”
One of the starring roles of Rose Alvarez is played by Darlyn Diaz who has performed in many prior OMS productions.
“My character is a really professional and a very get-to-the-point person,” Diaz said. “She is very much in love with Albert Peterson and she’s a sweet person at heart.
“This show is very different and it’s incredible how we went from kiddie shows to having a kiss and dancing to a lot of music that’s way more mature than what we are used to doing.”
Rose is in love with Albert, but she is constantly being thwarted by Albert’s mom, Mrs. Peterson, played by Alexis Dawkins.
“I really got into the role very quickly because I love 1950s stuff,” said Dawkins. “I researched the time period a lot, but at the same time, I kind of picked up the style of the character from some of my family and I kind of worked with that and put it all together to create this character.”
The only seventh grader in a starring role is Jacob Greening who plays the rock ’n’ roll sensation, Conrad Birdie.
Greening previously played The Professor in “The Rules of Comedy” and Mr. Trotter in “James and the Giant Peach Jr.”
“Conrad is sort of an Elvis-type character so I watched a lot of Elvis,” said Greening on preparing for his role.
“My grandfather was the biggest Elvis fan ever and he had a lot of DVDs including the Ed Sullivan show and stuff, so I watched a lot.”
Director Mark Stutz hopes families of all ages will come to see “Bye, Bye Birdie” at Orefield Middle School as well as “Thoroughly Modern Millie at Springhouse Middle School this weekend.
“Bye, Bye Birdie” will be performed 7 p.m. March 9 and 10; and 2 p.m. March 11 and 12 at OMS. Tickets will be available at the door.