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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 18, 2010
Going out for fifties fun
By Saranac Hale Spencer
VOORHEESVILLE Teenage effervescence dances across the stage in choreographed rhythm as students perform a musical classic.
The Dionysians are striking a lighter tone with this year’s production of Bye Bye Birdie after the drama group performed Flowers for Algernon last spring.
Many of the 35 students in the play are new to the stage, director Wayne Manchester said, explaining that Bye Bye Birdie will teach them skills for next year’s show. He plans to alternate between musicals and more sober plays.
A product of the 1950s, the musical captures an era in a satiric frame. It examines American society and values through its titular character’s visit to a conventional small town in Ohio. Conrad Birdie, a rock-n-roll singer reminiscent of Elvis Presley, is sent to Sweet Apple, Ohio in an effort by his record company, run by a couple forever locked in a lover’s quarrel, to make one last hit song before he is drafted into the Army.
“It’s kind of like a spoof on relationships in general,” said Colin Kelly, a junior who plays Hugo Peabody, the boy who began going steady with Kim MacAfee, the president of the Sweet Apple Conrad Birdie Fan Club, at the beginning of the play.
“I like that it is a satire of ’50s life,” Alli Dillenbeck said, concluding that the musical illustrates that “No one is that perfect, cookie-cutter family.”
Dillenbeck is a senior who plays Rosie Alvarez, the Spanish secretary and girlfriend of Albert Peterson, Birdie’s manager who is beholden to his overbearing and intolerant mother. She likes that the play includes an interracial couple, Dillenbeck said.
Alvarez’s aspirations for being Peterson’s wife are clear from the very first scene, in which she sings about him becoming an English teacher. It is evident, though, that she is the strength in his business, which is why she is Manchester’s favorite character. “She’s an interesting dichotomy,” he said.
Alvarez and Peterson are the main characters, said Jacob Brill, a senior who plays Conrad Birdie. The play is a kind of love story between them, he said, and his favorite scene is when Alvarez sings “Spanish Rose” triumphantly at the end.
The chemistry between Alvarez and Peterson comes easily, Dillenbeck said, because she and Garrett Wineinger, who plays Peterson, are close friends.
As students explored the play while putting it together, Manchester said, it became clear that many of the cultural references and even historical conditions were foreign to them. He showed them episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show, explained what Postum is, and told them about soda counters at drugstores.
The girls in the play could draw on the familiar hysteria surrounding popular boy bands, like the Jonas Brothers, to act as Birdie’s frenzied fans, he said.
Students had a hard time relating to the idea of a draft, Manchester said, which is central to the play since Birdie’s draft notice sets everything in motion.
“It’s never existed for them,” he said, concluding of the play, “It’s just a different time period.”
Bye Bye Birdie will run from March 26 to 28 at the high school’s performing arts center. The shows on Friday and Saturday start at 7:15 p.m. and Sunday’s performance starts at 2:15 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults.