By Joan Doggrell
Special to The Citizen
Whether you remember the 50s or just wish you did, you’ll rock to “Bye Bye Birdie,” opening at Newnan Theatre Company on September 5.
It’s a gentle satire of the rock ‘n’ roll era, with Conrad Birdie (who looks a lot like Elvis Presley) at the center of the plot. The show offers plenty of dancing and choral numbers such as “Kids,” ”An English Teacher,” “Put on a Happy Face,” and “A Lot of Livin’ to Do.”
When Birdie is drafted into the U.S. Army, his agent Albert Peterson, with secretary/sweetheart Rose Alvarez, desperately plan a final publicity stunt. Conrad Birdie will record and perform Albert’s new song “One Last Kiss” on the Ed Sullivan show and give one lucky girl from his fan club a real “last kiss.”
The lucky girl is fifteen-year-old Kim McAfee from Sweet Apple, Ohio. Conrad comes to town, shocks the parents and drives the teenage girls crazy. Kim’s boyfriend Hugo becomes jealous. Albert’s mother tries to get rid of Hispanic Rosie by introducing Albert to a sexy girl she met on the bus, making Rosie jealous and angry as well. She plots with Hugo to ruin the television appearance.
Conrad sings “One Last Kiss” on ‘’The Ed Sullivan Show,’’ but he doesn’t get to kiss Kim. Things go terribly wrong, and some embarrassing and career-damaging events take place on live television.
After the show, Conrad lures the teens to a disreputable place to party. Rosie, hoping to forget Albert, flirts with Shriners and has to be rescued. Hugo tells the parents where their teenagers have gone, and they all declare that they don’t know what’s wrong with their kids.
The adults and the police find the kids, and Conrad is arrested. Albert bails him out of jail and hurries him out of town in disguise. All ends happily for the rest of the characters, and Rosie and Albert leave for Pumpkin Falls, Iowa, where Albert has taken a job as an English teacher.
Though nowhere near old enough to remember that era, Director Donna Provencher calls herself “a child of the 50s at heart.” She currently lives in Columbus, Georgia, and commutes to Newnan, but for much of her life she has acted and directed in the Washington, D.C. area. Newnan audiences will recall her stellar performance as Becca in “Rabbit Hole,” directed by Bert Lyons and performed at NTC in February of this year. She currently owns her own production company, started last year.
Provencher is “tremendously proud” of her cast. “I’ve really been impressed by the way people have pulled together,” she said. “We have a phenomenal new choreographer, Paulo Manso de Sousa, for the many dance numbers. Our music direction has been a collaborative effort between Bruce Patterson and Becky Clark. They are the heart and soul of the music in the show.”
“The cast is so excited and exuberant you would just like to be dancing up on stage with them,” added Provencher. They include Andy Lees as Conrad Birdie, Kevin McInturff as Albert Peterson, and Laura Pratesi as Rose. “She has a gorgeous voice,” said Provencher. Pratesi has played several roles at NTC, most recently in Spamalot.
Kim is played by Steffi Ledbetter, a “one-take wonder,” according to Provencher. “She’s auditioned for ‘American Idol’ and is on call for Cirque de Soleil. Her voice is just exquisite, and she’s only 19.” Bert Lyons plays Mr. McAfee, Kim’s father. Benjamin Dell, “a delight on stage and off,” plays Hugo.
“There’s so much going on in the world today and so much in the media that is dark, that it’s nice to be able to experience a different time and a different world,” said Provencher. “People joke about Birdie being fluff, but it’s the fluff that makes the world go ‘round. It embodies everything that is such a pick-me-up about musical theater.”
The “Bye Bye Birdie” script was written by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. The original Broadway production won a Tony Award. The show was made into a film in 1963 starring Ann-Margaret and a television production in 1995.
To purchase tickets, and for show dates and times, visit Newnan Theatre Company’s web site at http://www.newnantheatre.org or visit the box office before or after any performance. The theatre is located in historic downtown Newnan at 24 First Avenue.