By Evelynn Coffie
Red lights. Kissy lips. Dreamboats. Loop de loops. Love amid war. Lusher Charter High School's Fall production of Bye Bye Birdie was here for a limited time. You'd have been a fool to miss out on the glitz and glory of All-American rock star Conrad Birdie trying to live his life up one last time before his Army recruitment. One last time, before succumbing to Boomer status.
Audience members and incoming attendees chatted with their friends and lingered by the entrance as cast and crew prepared for night two behind the red-velvet crushed stage curtain. There was a large, white Bye Bye Birdie emblem displayed in a Betty Boop-Esque kissy lip. It was almost 7:30 PM. The lights dimmed from above, and audience members excitedly hurried to their seats. Showtime!
Bye Bye Birdie is a stage musical initially written by Michael Stewart in the late 1950s following the upheaval of Elvis Presley's draft notice into the army in 1957. "There are three main characters and a family that is a collective piece of the story,” Daniel Porea, a Lusher junior who plays Albert Peterson in the musical, said. “The main character [Conrad Birdie—played by junior Jasper Koelbel] is an Elvis-type guy. He's an influencer, as we would call it today, and rising to fame at the same time rock and roll makes a breakthrough in the United States."
However, with fame comes a whole lot of misfortune, especially for Conrad Birdie's helicopter manager Albert Peterson. "He wants to retain financial stability by creating this big stunt where Conrad Birdie participates in this ‘last kiss’ special before heading off to the army," Porea said.
Act I opens with Albert Peterson in a tense scene between Albert and his secretary, Rosie Alvarez, played by Lusher senior Kali Jupiter. Rosie is the brains behind the whole operation. Her fierce glare and hypnotic sway fail to lure Albert into her plea for marriage. They're both young and impulsive, still searching for sincere love and passionate romance in a world of fleeting youth. But they must cast their burdens aside to prepare Sweet Apple, Ohio for the greatest gift they could ever receive—Conrad Birdie.
As Act I progresses, characters break out into jive and cheer, swaying to the rhythm of "Put On a Happy Face" and collapsing to the soothing sounds of Conrad Birdie's raspy voice and pelvic thrusts. It seems as if the entirety of Act I revolves around Birdie's arrival, and rightly so. He is the nation's lover boy whose frenzied teenage fans can't get enough of him. They're so much into Conrad Birdie that they soak in his presence every chance they can get. From sneaking into Kim McAfee's—played by Madelyn Gardner—home to fawning over him on the mayor's front steps, their screams pierced through the ears of all audience members in the tight, Le Petit Théâtre. Their wild infatuation signified their deep desperation to keep him close and secure, to pretend the inevitability of his departure is a fantasy. It's fear that hidden behind those screams. The possibility that the love of their lives would come out of the military an old, washed-up man.
Act II begins with a more out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new persona—a running theme throughout the musical. As the Birdie's departure from Sweet Apple nears, a dark gloom hovers over the town. Old flings are on the edge of collapse. Rotten kids run rampant in the streets. But what about the parents? They exist, too, and they're fed up with their children. Kim McAfee is tired of her father's authoritarian guardianship and runs away with Conrad Birdie to live it up—at 14 years old. Her father, Mr. McAfee—played by Riley Hartman—was rightful in his outrage, although the verbal abuse on his children was a clearly Boomer touch.
Once the parents of Sweet Apple find out their precious, Conrad Birdie-crazed children run away to the Ice House, they take to the streets with pitchforks, metal brackets, machetes, and pans to snag their children back home for a nice, good grounding.
"It's not the most ground-breaking musical Lusher's ever done, but it's fun, and I think it has some themes that will speak to a lot of people," Lusher senior Margaret Cerrone said.
In the age of 'OK, Boomer,' there's a growing animosity between younger generations and elders born during the 50s-60s. Significant factors, such as rising inequality, unaffordable college tuition, political polarization, and toxic, fixed mindsets, contribute to the divide between "Boomers" and younger generations. Bye Bye Birdie encapsulates the present divide in less than two hours. Domestic tranquility in a household with adolescents isn’t quite possible. In Bye Bye Birdie, power resides in the parent's presence. However, when their kids realize that condescension cannot limit their freedom in the world, they seize their teenage angst and harness it for fun.
Bye Bye Birdie ran from November 14th-16th with the abundant aid of stagecraft students. "Stagecraft is responsible for all the behind the scenes work from building the set to quick costume changes," junior Iman Ferguson, one of the leading members of stage management, said. "Specific people will have more specialized jobs, like designing the set, creating costumes, and making sure the actors are where they need to be." Stagecraft played a significant role in the setup of this wonderful production. "Stagecraft's job is to make the fantasy of the production real and transport the audience to a new location." Fortunately for them, tearing down or "striking" the set takes about 45 minutes to one hour to complete.
If you missed Bye Bye Birdie, no worries--there's always the cabaret in the spring.