Bye Bye Birdie

Flash back — Spring of 1960 “Bye, Bye Birdie” premieres at New York’s Martin Beck Theatre and runs for 607 performances. Two years later Ann-Margret makes her film debut in the 1963 screen version of the musical, also starring Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh.

Musical numbers such as “Put on a Happy Face,” “The Telephone Hour,” “Lot of Livin’ to Do” and “Kids” speak to a generation fueled on rock ‘n’ roll idol pandemonium caused by Elvis and Beatlemania.

Flash forward — “Bye, Bye Birdie” remains a timeless, fun musical tribute to the craze behind rock ‘n’ roll and ever-existing generation gaps.

This week the spirit of young love and rock ‘n’ roll lives for a cast and crew of over 70 South Whidbey High School and Bayview High School students when “Bye, Bye Birdie” opens at South Whidbey High School Friday.

The story centers on Conrad Birdie — played by sophomore Gabriel Itaya — a big rock star who has been inducted into the Army. His manager, Albert J. Peterson — played by sophomore Orson Ossman — schemes a publicity stunt to send Birdie off in style and create a surefire hit. Senior Anna Bakeman plays Kim MacAfee of Sweet Apple, Ohio, the girl whose name is pulled out of the Conrad Birdie Fan Club file to be the girl who Birdie gives “One Last Kiss” before going off to boot camp.

“It pokes fun at the celebrity culture and the creation of these huge celebrities and how the culture never really changes,” says “Birdie” director Diana Lindsey. “For my generation rock ‘n’ roll was a new thing. It’s been fun to teach the cast who Ed Sullivan was and show them what Friday nights were like.”

And it might just be second times the charm for the high school, which first presented the musical in 1986.

The key ingredient this time — said technical director and high school drama teacher Michael McInerney — could be the seasoned production team that has been working the high school stage for about a decade.

“We’ve gotten consistent,” he said.

Lindsey began as a stage mom in 1993 and it is now her ninth musical she will co-direct with McInerney. Brent Purvis directs pit orchestra and sound. Charlene Brown, Susan Sandri and Susan Vanderwood choreograph the show. Costumer Elise Potter leads a team of mothers, aunts, sisters, friends and community members who will create a wardrobe for this large cast.

Doing set design is Lon Peterman, whose daughter was on stage in “The Music Man” and his son was down in the orchestra pit.

As “Birdie” is a musical, the pit orchestra performing at the South Whidbey Auditorium is as much a character in the production as any of the actors or singers.

During his nine years at the school and five musicals, music director Brent Purvis has learned to expect quality from his musicians and the actors on the stage.

“We always find strong singers, dancers and actors and utilize their strengths,” he said.

“Bye, Bye Birdie” is an ambitious production, with its musical numbers, swinging ’50s dancing and over-the-top Conrad Birdie fan club antics. It has taken two hours a day of practice over the past two months to get it ready for the stage. The cast of 42 high school students is larger than some Broadway shows.

“This is a full production plus,” Lindsey said.

While too young at the time to be a fan of a certain hunk of burning love, Lindsey admits to screaming for the Beatles, and has incorporated pieces of her generational experiences into the adaptation of the script.

“There’s a scene that’s supposed to be the Shriners, but I’ve replaced them all with my mother’s Junior League friends,” Lindsey said. “My mom gave me phrases to use and everything.”

It will seem no one in the cast is spared the spotlight, and Birdie isn’t the only one chasing a kiss or two in a song. Albert J. Peterson’s secretary Rosie Alvarez, played by Christina Atkins, must chase Birdie’s manager around and attempt to pry his affection from his over protecting mother Mae, played by senior Shena Van Spronsen. Conrad, the young heartthrob he is, must share the young Ms. MacAfee’s affections with her boyfriend Hugo, played by sophomore Jared Moore. Mayhem and generational friction ensues when Birdie repeatedly calls Mr. MacAfee “fats” and Hugo winds up giving Birdie a shiner.

Anna Bakeman considers the script “corny but fun” — and thinks people will relate to the battle between her character and parents Mr. and Mrs. MacAfee, played by sophomore Matt Bell and senior Colleen Johnson.

“Many adults tend to forget what they did when they were young and how we are now doing the exact same thing,” Bakeman said.

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