Flighty teenagers make ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ fun

The 1950s gets tweaked when North Central College’s Summer Music Theatre presents the rock ’n’ roll-era musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Show times are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 10 in North Central College’s Pfeiffer Hall. It is directed by Susan Craig-Olsen, lecturer of theater at NCC.

She directed “Bye Bye Birdie” about 10 years ago at North Central College — only her second time directing — and decided it was time to revisit the Tony Award-winning Broadway production. Ross Berkley, a 2005 graduate of North Central, gives musical direction.

“Bye Bye Birdie” was written by Michael Stewart, with lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse.

Craig-Olsen’s approach is a little different this time around, she said.

“I’m a little more confident as a director,” she said. “There are a few people in that original production and they’ve been commenting on a few things they remember. I feel … I’m approaching it in an easier manner than I did the last time.

“Over the years we have developed a really nice community, and I am doing more bonding with the cast now. It’s more about the experience now.”

“Bye Bye Birdie” was written and set in 1958, and was then a starring vehicle for Dick Van Dyke.

“It’s a comedy, and it sort of makes fun of teenagers at the time,” she said. “It was the first generation of kids to have their own music, and they had these teen idols that were starting to show up all over the place — like Elvis.”

The play is based on the mass hysteria that came in the wake of Elvis Presley being drafted into the army in 1957. Loosely based on Elvis, Conrad Birdie is a rock star who gets drafted.

“I had to explain to the kids what a draft was,” she said.

Albert Peterson, Conrad’s manager (played by Van Dyke), creates a song called “One Last Kiss.” Conrad will kiss one lucky fan on “The Ed Sullivan Show” before going off into the service. With the money Albert gets from the song and the kissing promotion, he’s going to marry his gal, Rosie.

“It just so happens that the teenager they chose had just been pinned to her steady boyfriend, and chaos ensues,” Craig-Olsen said. “Albert Peterson has an overbearing mother and tries to come between him and Rosie. It’s a silly, much simpler time before cellphones. There are a lot telephones on stage but they have cords. It’s just a much more innocent time.

“We’re trying to grasp the joyfulness and the fun of the show and embrace it for what it is,” she said.

She has double cast the roles of Albert and Rosie.

“We have one cast that’s a little bit older — Albert is supposed to be 33 — and the other is almost the same age,” she said. “There are tons of teenagers and lots of families in the show. We love seeing that. The family that acts together stays together.”

“Put on a Happy Face” is probably the most memorable song from the musical.

The cast of “Bye Bye Birdie” includes Becky Messerschmidt of Glen Ellyn and Kathy Musselman of Woodridge double-cast as Rosie; Chad Olsen of Naperville and Michael Sillar of Plainfield double-cast as Albert; Chris Oechsel of Naperville as Conrad; Audrey Hare of Aurora as Kim; Jeremy Cifonie of Naperville as Hugo, and Jane Warfel of Naperville as Mrs. Peterson.

‘Bye Bye Birdie’

Aug. 1-10

Pfeiffer Hall, 310 E. Benton Ave., Naperville

Tickets, $12-$18

(630) 637-7469

northcentralcollege.edu

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