New season at Theatre Memphis opens with Bye Bye Birdie
By Randall Hartzog
Theatre Memphis’ Lohrey Stage will soon be home to the story of Conrad Birdie, a famous rock ‘n’ roll star, in the production of the lively family musical classic Bye Bye Birdie. Playing August 19 – September 11, the plot surrounds Birdie being drafted into the army and Albert Peterson, his agent, and Albert’s secretary, Rosie, concocting one final national publicity plan before Conrad’s induction. Conrad will bid a randomly chosen member of his fan club, Kim MacAfee of Sweet Apple, Ohio, goodbye with an all-American kiss. The arrival of Birdie in Sweet Apple causes people of all ages to swoon, and the MacAfee household is soon reduced to chaos due to its famous houseguest. This satiric tribute to popular music contains the hit songs “Put on a Happy Face,” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” “Kids,” and of course, “Bye Bye Birdie.”
The Theatre Memphis production includes a cast of veteran TM players and many newcomers. Rob Hanford (Cats, Cabaret) plays Birdie’s agent, Albert Peterson, and Amy Polumbo ([title of show], Cabaret) plays Albert’s secretary, Rosie. Memphis musician Brennan Villines (La Cage aux Folles, [title of show]) portrays Conrad Birdie, and TM new-comer Oliva Wingate is cast as the all-American girl contest winner, Kim MacAfee. The impressive ensemble includes 25 high school students from 14 area high schools.
It was the teen talent present in Memphis that led Theatre Memphis to schedule Bye Bye Birdie in the first place, according to Debbie Litch, Executive Producer at Theatre Memphis. “We were at the end of our play selection process during the run of our hit show [title of show], and we had created a high school night because of the interest students had shown in that show. Part of that evening included a Broadway sing-along before the show, and we were astounded at the turn out. Standing right in front of us were scores of students singing and interacting, and I thought, ‘We have got to showcase these kids before we lose them to colleges around the country.’” So Litch returned to the selection committee to suggest that Bye Bye Birdie (which had been on a short list for production) be moved on to the 2011-12 season.
Director Cecelia Wingate was on board for the same reasons the play selection committee was drawn to Bye Bye Birdie. “I was so excited to be asked to direct this show. It takes us back to such a wonderful, simpler, and optimistic time. People were having a ball in 1958, and it’s so nice to re-visit that era where everything seemed so fresh and new and attainable. I adore that we have a completely age-appropriate cast for this show. What a pleasure it is for me to be able to work with the amazing teen talent in this area and to be able to give them an opportunity to perform at Theatre Memphis with all the amazing production values. And we have some of the best adult actors in the city. The icing on the cake is having one of Memphis’ best singer/musicians, Brennan Villines, in the role of Conrad Birdie. This is not your grandmother’s Bye Bye Birdie. It’s fresh and funny, and we think you’ll have a blast!”
Performance dates for Bye Bye Birdie are August 19-September 11. Shows are at 7:30pm on Thursdays (and Wednesdays, August 31 and September 7) and 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with matinees on Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $28 for adults, $15 for students with a valid ID, and $10 for kids under 12. Call 901-682-8323 to purchase tickets or go online to theatrememphis.org.
Brennan Villines (center) portrays rock and roll idol Birdie Conrad surrounded by adoring, music-crazed teenagers in the Theatre Memphis production of Bye Bye Birdie, August 19 – September 11.