COAST Players hoping audiences swoon for 'Bye Bye Birdie'
By Anna Goodwin McCarthy
Saturday, February 16, 2019
With his coiffed hair and rock-and-roll swagger, 1950s teen idol Conrad Birdie grabs the microphone, belts out lyrics to a song and wins the hearts of his adoring fans.
It’s one of the iconic scenes from the hit 1960 Broadway musical “Bye Bye Birdie,” which will be performed by the COAST Players at College of The Albemarle’s Performing Arts Center starting Thursday.
Describing the musical in a recent interview, Jeffrey Emmerich, the show’s director and director of drama at COA, called it “just purely entertaining.”
According to Emmerich, the musical’s plot is based loosely on the experiences of Elvis Presley, who had already rocketed to stardom when he received his military draft notice in 1958. Similar to the rock-and-roll legend, Birdie, who is Elvis-like, is also drafted into the Army.
The COAST Players’ production follows the book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse that were used in the original production of “Bye Bye Birdie” that began its run on Broadway in 1960. In addition to the numerous stage productions over the past six decades, there have been film and television productions of the musical as well.
The Broadway production earned a Tony for Dick Van Dyke in his lead role as Albert Peterson, who plays Birdie’s manager. Van Dyke later starred in a film adaptation of the musical which also starred Ann-Margret and Janet Leigh.
Emmerich says Peterson’s character has to juggle numerous responsibilities, including “agent, songwriter and publicist” for the popular Birdie.
In the COAST Players’ production, Peterson is played by Richard Merrick, who most recently portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in the Emmerich Theatre Production Company’s production of a “A Christmas Carol” in December.
Managing Birdie’s musical career is not an easy task for Peterson. However, his secretary and love interest, Rose Alvarez, portrayed by Mariah Schierer in the COAST production, hopes to save the day. She comes up with the idea of creating a promotional event for Birdie that is sure to be a success. The plan is for Birdie, played by Aaron Ford, to sing a song and kiss a fan on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Ed Sullivan, for those younger than 50, hosted the longest-running variety show in U.S. broadcast history, introducing not only Elvis, but The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other top musical entertainers, to American audiences between 1948 and 1971.
In the musical, Birdie visits the hometown of the lucky young fan chosen, Kim MacAfee, played by Jordan Knight. Birdie is met with a huge reception from the town’s citizens and mayor. A clamor of enthusiastic teens all scream with delight when he appears.
Emmerich describes it as a moment that’s sure to make audiences laugh.
“They are flipping out over Conrad Birdie,” he said. “Everybody starts fainting, including the mayor’s wife and the mayor.”
Emmerich said when preparing the cast for the scene, he showed them YouTube videos of the crowds of young fans who screamed in adoration when Elvis and The Beatles would perform.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working with the teen chorus,” said Emmerich. “I am very proud of them.”
One of the most well-known scenes from the musical is “The Telephone Hour,” and occurs toward the beginning. The set design includes boxes in which cast members, a phone to their ear, are shown either seated, standing or lying down. The boxes make it appear that each of the teens is at their own home, chatting away on the phone to a friend.
“It’s a terrific scene,” said Emmerich.
With his set designs, technical director and set designer Nathan Schierer brings to life the atmosphere of the 1950s. Emmerich said the musical also features a variety of dances from the 1950s like the “Twist.” These are incorporated in the show by the choreographer, Mariah Schierer, who also plays Rose. Schierer serves as the musical’s costumer as well, bringing in fashion and styling from the time period.
The production’s musical director, Gloria Emmerich, plays the piano for multiple songs. “We Love You Conrad,” “Put on a Happy Face,” “One Boy,” and “Honestly Sincere,” are just a few of the songs expected to entertain the show’s audiences.
“It’s loads of fun,” said Emmerich.
Showtimes for “Bye Bye Birdie” are Thursday at 10 a.m.; Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Thursday, Feb. 28, at 10 a.m.; Friday, March 1, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 2, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, March 3, at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $9.50 to $19.50. Ticket information is available at www.albemarle.edu/for-the-community/the-arts/performing-arts-center/or by calling 335-9050 or 1-800-335-9050.