Friday, April 12, 2002
Seventh grade play 'Bye Bye Birdie' . . .
Poodle skirts, slicked-back hair and pillbox hats were back in style last weekend at the Carlisle School as seventh graders brought the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" to the Corey Auditorium stage. As always, the annual play was an impressive celebration of youthful enthusiasm and hard work, made possible through the leadership of a talented director (Liz Smith) and dozens of dedicated, behind-the-scenes parents and teachers. This winning combination created a spirit of teamwork that glowed onstage and kept things running smoothly backstage, even in the face of daunting challenges during one of the performancesbut more on that later.
Teens and rock 'n' roll
The story of "Bye Bye Birdie" (which premiered on Broadway in 1960) takes place in the 1950s, and focuses on teen rock n' roll idol Conrad Birdie (played by student Welles Mattson). Created to satirize the Elvis Presley phenomenon, the Birdie character even faces military service. But before reporting to duty, musical representatives Rose Alvarez (Cassidy Lane) and Albert Peterson (Gregory Gatti) decide that Birdie should bid farewell to his public by delivering "One Last Kiss" to a randomly picked teen-aged fan Kim MacAfee (Emily Fritz-Endres) from the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio. Birdie's arrival in Sweet Apple and the anticipation of an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show throw this small American town into a merry frenzy. Some of the more familiar songs from the show include "Put on a Happy Face," "One Boy," "The Telephone Hour," and "Kids."
There were many stand-out moments, including: Mattson as Birdie in a gold lamé shirt and leather pants (and latera zebra-striped bathrobe) swinging his hips and crooning in true Presley-esque fashion; Kim's friend Ursula (Gaby Manganella) unleashing "the scream"; Kim's father Harry MacAfee (Eric Zuk) delivering his beleaguered-dad monologue; Albert's meddling mother Mae (Lauren Lamere) and her "don't mind me I'm just your poor, sick mother" speeches; and the sight of nearly 20 seventh graders dressed as adults, shaking their heads in chagrin and disapproval at the antics of those crazy "Kids" (in the song of the same name).
One of the most impressive components evident in this ensemble could be summed up in one word: Energy. Smiles were dazzling, gestures were deliberate, and screams (delivered by Birdie fan club members) were appropriately piercing. It was clear that the students had invested time and enthusiasm into the development of their characters. This energy was demonstrated admirably during ensemble dance numbers (choreographed by teacher Drea Zollo and Liz Smith) and during the Cheerleader Cheer and Fan Club Cheer, which were choreographed by the students themselves.
Encouraging this kind of student initiative is one of the goals for the seventh-grade play, says Smith. "I really wanted the kids to feel like this was their show. It was a big moment [on Thursday, prior to the first performance] when I handed it over to them. I said, 'Okay, it's your show now. I've taught you all I can. I'm done. Take it and run with it.'"
And so they did from applying their own makeup, to moving their own props (all the crew members were also students), to running the sound and lighting. "There was a phenomenal team spirit. Everyone pulled together and helped each other," says Smith. Everybody was important, everybody was part of the 'Birdie' team. The results were great. No matter what was thrown at them, they got on with it."
There were, inevitably, a number of challenges thrown at the entire cast during rehearsals and performances. One of these challenges presented itself slowly over the course of the six weeks of preparation for the program. Simply put, there were several boys who could hit notes while singing at auditions in January, who found those same notes unattainable by April. Musical director Annie Halvorsen did an admirable job navigating adolescent voices through what was often difficult music.
But perhaps the most challenging circumstances came during the Saturday night performance. Technical problems made it difficult for crew members to communicate and properly cue the lighting. A lead character had a bad case of the stomach flu. One of the girls tripped while exiting a stage platform and injured her ankle. Props were missing, people were missing, and portions of the set were bumped and nearly keeled over. But it is a testament to the cast and crew that most (if not all) of these difficulties remained completely invisible to the audience.
"It was a credit to all of [the kids]. They kept up the wonderful standard, and helped each other," said Smith. "No one crumbled. It ended up being a life lesson."
Ah, yes. That all-important lesson, in theater as in life: The show must go on.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito